S v Williams: A springboard for further debate about corporal punishment

Authors Ann Skelton

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: Professor and Director of the Centre for Child Law, University of Pretoria
Source: Acta Juridica, 2015, p. 336 – 359


In an early judgment of the Constitutional Court, S v Williams, Justice Langa found that judicial whippings were unconstitutional because they violated young offenders’ rights to dignity and humane treatment. Former Chief Justice Langa was also a member of the unanimous court that found the law prohibiting corporal punishment in schools to be a reasonable and justifiable infringement of their parents’ right to religious freedom. However, s 12 of the South African Constitution guarantees everyone the right to be protected from all forms of violence, either from public or private sources. This contribution considers how the court might deal with a challenge to the constitutionality of the common-law defence of reasonable chastisement, which permits corporal punishment of children by their parents in their own homes.