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CAPE TOWN, South Africa, January 29, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – South Africa's Human Rights Commission is calling on Parliament to outlaw spanking and has ordered a Christian church to stop encouraging corporal punishment and submit its staff to Maoist-style retraining.

SAHRC's just released report on the Joshua Generation Church finds that “corporal punishment in any form” – even “moderate chastisement” by parents of their children – is an unacceptable violation of every child's right to be free of “maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation.”

The commission also cited many international agreements upholding the rights of the child (though all are silent on parental corporal punishment) and charges the South African government itself with violating them all by failing to criminalize parental spanking. Its final recommendation is that the government quickly outlaw it.

A bill doing just that is in the works.

But Nadene Badenhorst, legal counsel for Freedom of Religion South Africa, which represents some 12 million Christian, Muslim, and Jewish believers, warns that “if spanking were to be criminalized, potentially responsible parents who love their children and only want what is best for them could end up in jail. What is more, children will be removed from parents and placed in foster care. One can only imagine the damage this will do to children and families.”

And parents could be ordered into “sensitization” training, as the SAHRC has ordered the instructors who taught the objectionable course in the first place.

Badenhorst told LifeSiteNews her organization will help the church appeal the ruling, which she characterized as wrong in law, wrong on the facts, and wrong on procedure.

One of the first problems with the SHARC ruling is that it is not based on any actual case of a child being spanked. The plaintiffs are adults – an atheist couple with a grievance, exposed on Facebook, against organized religion – and two professional human rights activists.

The quartet complained in 2013 about a parenting course taught at the church that included spanking in its online list of disciplinary measures, along with relevant scriptural passages, and two contentious paragraphs describing just how big the “rod” should be – a reference to the often misquoted Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates his children.”

The SAHRC, which, like human rights bodies in Canada and other Western countries, both adjudicates complaints and advocates for plaintiffs, decided that the church was indeed advocating corporal punishment as doctrine and that this is always a human rights violation. It ordered the church to promise in writing to stop, to remove all teaching materials doing so, and to submit “the Church's trainers and pastors involved in presenting its parenting course” for retraining in nonviolent parenting.

For its part, the church, along with Freedom of Religion South Africa, denies that it is advocating corporal punishment. The church told the SAHRC that “some members believe that the Scriptures command reasonable and appropriate chastisement; other members interpret those Scriptures differently.”

As well, the church noted that the course in question had been taught only once and that the two instructors, whose names have not been revealed, were no longer its employees.

Badenhorst insists that South African law already criminalizes parental discipline that goes beyond the subjective threshold of “reasonableness.” She also argues that none of the international conventions the commission cited bans parental corporal punishment and that South Africa is not bound by such conventions.

What's more, Freedom of Religion South Africa and the church dispute the SAHRC's claim that research condemns corporal punishment. American research indicates that a minority of children will not stop bullying or other interpersonal violence unless punished physically. Those who aren't corrected are likelier to become violent, abusive adults.

Moreover, U.N. conventions and the South African constitution recognize not only parental rights, but religious rights. Yet the SAHRC has dismissed these, particularly in disputes with sexual minorities. Badenhorst believes that the SAHRC and other governmental agencies designed to protect equality rights  “seem to have positioned themselves as the defenders of sexual orientation rights and the mouthpiece of liberals and in particular gay activists, against Christians.”