Pro-spanking evangelists hit the UK
A controversial American evangelist couple who advocate the routine spanking of children are bringing their message to the UK.
Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo are to address a rally in London organised by the Christian Education Europe publishing group on Saturday. They are expected to be met by protesters from health and children's rights groups.
The couple, who have written a number of books on childcare, believe over-indulgence of children by their parents has led to moral decline.
They think pain is "a gift from God" and advocate that parents spank their children from the age of 18 months on up to five times a day to teach them discipline.
They suggest a plastic spatula could be used to hit children as it will "inflict pain, but not break bones or damage skin".
The Ezzos also propose that babies should be smacked for poor table manners and should not be fed on demand.
Gary Ezzo, a former preacher, said: "You should just lift up the diaper and give them a little swat on the backside."
The Ezzos say 1.5 million parents have been helped by their programme.
Their arrival follows a recent BBC poll which found that as many as 70% of British parents believe parents should be allowed to discipline their children by smacking them.
The poll came after the prosecution in May of a Scottish father who smacked his young daughter in a health clinic.
However, the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA), which is holding a protest against Saturday's rally, calls the Ezzos' proposals "a child abusers' charter".
They say spanking a child up to five times a day is "feudal and barbaric".
"Parents in this country have moved on from this peculiar hellfire and damnation approach to bringing up their children," said the CPHVA's director Jackie Carnell.
Christine Bimead, chairwoman of the association's parenting and family support group, said: "Research shows that the more authoritarian and aggressive parents are, the more likely they are to produce aggressive children with reduced self-esteem and confidence.
"Children should learn self-discipline through respectful communication and a loving environment.
"This is the more difficult option requiring maturity and a deep understanding of the child by the parent."
She added that this would help children make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions.
The CPHVA also believes the Ezzos' opposition to feeding babies on demand could be dangerous and could cause dehydration.
Others opposed to the Ezzos' doctrine include the Parenting Education and Support Forum.
Chief executive Mary Crowley said: "We are shocked by these ideas advocating violence towards babies and young children.
"What children learn from being hit is that hurting others is all right. Most parents who have smacked their children tell us that they regret it afterwards.
"We encourage parents to learn non-violent ways of imposing discipline."
The National Children's Bureau, which is campaigning for smacking to be outlawed and believes it is a form of abuse, says one British child a week dies as a result of abuse.