Two American evangelists who advocate beating children as young as 14 months up to five times a day were today at the centre of a storm of protest from welfare organisations.
The NSPCC is among those vehemently opposed to the teachings of Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, who are speaking at a meeting in London this weekend.
The Ezzos believe in "hitting for God". They teach that spanking babies with a plastic spatula is the only way to instil "lifetime obedience".
Believing that parental indulgence has brought about a moral decline, the couple advise on exactly what implements should be used to achieve "maxi-mum sting" without leaving permanent marks, how to pin down "one, two, three-year-old children" so that "you won't miss", and where to hit. Among other suggestions are:
• Not to hit children in front of witnesses, to avoid hitting on bare skin, and not to choose implements that cut or bruise skin.
• Parents are told to put themselves first, and alter the child's routine to fit their own, not the other way round.
• Too much cuddling or feeding on demand is frowned upon.
• Parents are told to start training children as young as eight months to sit up straight in their high chairs with their arms at their sides, and to force them physically into the posture and hold them there if necessary.
• They also advocate leaving babies as young as six months by themselves for two 30-minute periods a day, and forcing children not potty-trained by two and a half to clear up their own mess.
Their methods have been branded a charter for child abusers.
Very unusually, the organisation that represents British health visitors is planning to protest outside the rally, being held tomorrow.
The Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA) is furious that the Ezzos are being allowed to promulgate their views in Westminster Hall as part of a meeting organised by a Christian group.
Jackie Carnell, CPHVA director, said: "The dogma that they are peddling appears to be a charter for child abusers.
" The idea that a child has to be spanked every two hours while it is awake is feudal and barbaric. Parents in this country have moved on from this peculiar 'hellfire and damnation' approach to bringing up children."
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children also condemns their methods, which they describe as " a brutal training regime". "Moral-ity cannot be imposed by swatting a baby with a plastic spatula. Moral values must be accepted, understood and shared," says Jim Harding, the NSPCC's chief executive.
"The Ezzos' approach to parenting does not help parents create a warm bond between themselves and their children. Instead it drives a wedge between them. And the more parents hammer in this wedge with angry blows, the more they push their children away from them."
The rally in Westminster Hall is being organised by Christian Education Europe Ltd, which supplies Biblical teaching material to evangelical schools and parents who teach their child at home.
Mr and Mrs Ezzo, who founded a group 10 years ago known as Growing Families International, will give their views in a talk entitled Parenting The Character Of Christ. They have produced many books aimed at helping parents "raise morally responsible and biblically responsive children, from birth to puberty".
According to the couple, Britain is in grave moral danger because of its national "rebellion" against God, unless the country as a whole starts to repent.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.