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Physical discipline

Parents and other adults who exercise parental control, such as school teachers in a private school have the right to administer moderate and reasonable physical punishment to children in their care (although it is not clear if adults who are merely in temporary control of a child, such as baby sitters, are included). However, excessive force may be regarded as assault, which is both a criminal offence and a civil wrong, giving the child the right to compensation for pain and any medical or other expenses incurred as a result.

Public schools are governed by the Education Regulations 2012 (SA) r 43:

  • Having regard to the rights and duties of students, parents and teachers, head teachers may impose such moderate and reasonable controls on the behaviour of students, and sanctions for offences against those controls, as they consider necessary or as are permitted by these regulations.
  • This power can be sub delegated to other school staff.

Teachers in private schools are subject to the rules of the school and the general law on assault.

The relationship between an adult and the child (for example, parent and child or teacher and child) is only one factor in deciding whether punishment is moderate and reasonable. Much depends on the circumstances of the case and the prevailing community standards, although relevant factors are:

  • the age of the child. The child must be old enough to benefit from correction and the punishment must be reasonable for a child of that age. For example, it has been held by a court that a parent is not lawfully entitled to administer to a girl of 19 months any physical punishment except of the very lightest description - a slight slap at most;
  • the size, health and, perhaps, the sex of the child;
  • the seriousness of the child's offence;
  • the instrument of correction. Canes have been held lawful in the past, but in the present day, caning or any use of an instrument may be held unlawful;
  • where the blow is administered. Blows to the face or other vulnerable parts of the body are very probably unlawful.
  • the force and number of the blows; and
  • the severity of the blows. Injuries requiring medical attention will normally suggest illegal behaviour.

It has also been held by the English Court of Appeal that, even where punishment is inflicted by a parent, the standard to be applied is that of the community generally and not that of the particular parents or family, or of any religious, ethnic or other group. For punishment by a teacher, see Education.

For more detailed information on this see:

Custody or guardianship of the Chief Executive  :  Last Revised: Sun Oct 21st 2018
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