US ‘child beaters’ invited to speak by Christian group

By Linda Jackson

AN American couple who believe in beating children rather than cuddling them have been invited to speak in Britain by a Christian education group.

Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, self-styled childcare experts and committed Christians, recommend that parents spank children from the age of 18 months up to five times a day, even for small transgressions.

During the visit next month, they will claim that parental over-indulgence has led to Britain’s decline into “immorality”. And, in a stinging attack, they will blame Penelope Leach, the child psychologist and author of a best-selling child development guide, for significantly contributing to the decline.

The visit has been organised by Christian Education Europe Ltd, a group which supplies special Biblical teaching material to evangelical schools and home education projects. Robert Thomas, a spokesman for group, said that the Ezzo’s would address four conferences during their visit next month. The biggest of these would be in London on October 30, where 1,200 people were expected.

In books outlining their “Bible-based” childcare programme, the couple suggest that parents hit children with a plastic spatula or similar implement which will “inflict pain but not break bones or damage skin tissue”. They also advocate that children should not be fed on demand, and say that even babies should be smacked for poor table manners.

Their books, which are distributed worldwide, have led to the biggest controversy in parenting for 40 years. However, their theories – reported to have been adopted by at least one million parents – have been described by one paediatrician as the “most dangerous I have seen”.

This week, in an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Ezzo said that the recent cases of 12-year-olds giving birth in Britain highlighted the need for a new “moral emphasis” in child training. He said: “One of the most destructive influences in England has been the child-centred parenting plan – the Penelope Leach philosophy which has dominated for the last 20 years.

“Her views are frightening. We believe that her methods are absolutely extreme, whereas we believe in balance. We believe you feed a baby on a cue, but the parents direct the cue, it is not up to the baby.” Mr Ezzo, who will urge parents to make children responsible for their own actions, will also introduce his “ministry” – Growing Families International – a company, that makes £2.5 million profit a year – during the visit.

News of the Ezzo’s trip has dismayed children’s rights lawyers and other Christian groups. Rachel Hodgkin, a lawyer specialising in children’s rights said that the Ezzo’s books “should carry a health warning”. She said: “The Ezzo’s insistence that demand-feeding inculcates a selfish baby is questionable. I’m very unhappy if the Ezzo’s philosophy is promulgated in this country.”

Gavin Drake, a spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella organisation representing evangelical Christian groups, last night distanced himself from the Ezzo’s philosophy. He said: “What is being preached sounds very extreme. There are Christian schools who believe in using corporal punishment. However, corporal punishment is used sparingly.

“It is important to instil values in children from an early age. It is possible to do that without the use of a cane. We believe it should only be used if the child is extremely deviant or putting themselves or other children in danger.”