UK governments are moving to make smacking children illegal. Meanwhile on Amazon, books are being sold that promote the practice
Amazon is the UK’s biggest ebook retailer – but its Kindle store has a darker underside. The company is selling books that encourage parents to beat their children, including those of a very young age, with plastic rods, wooden rulers and lengths of PVC pipe.
The books – eight of which were examined for this article – can be found within Amazon’s parenting sections, which includes information on bringing up babies and toddlers. Some of the titles are focus on child “training” and have links to evangelical Christian groups, with many of them being sold online for years and promoted via public speaking events, homeschooling networks and social media pages with tens of thousands of followers.
Continued sales of the books come at a time when the Welsh National Assembly is planning to make it illegal to physically smack, punish or assault children. “There is no reason to ever hit a child”, Welsh deputy minister for health and social services Julie Morgan has said. A similar law is also being planned in Scotland.
In response to the books being sold, an Amazon spokesperson said it provides customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including titles that some may find objectionable. The company’s content guidelines for authors, publishers, and book sellers are considerably looser than those for other other product categories: copyright infringement is prohibited and the company reserves the right not to sell some books, “such as pornography or other inappropriate content.”
What Amazon deems as inappropriate does not appear to extend to books that advocate parents hitting children. According to the 2014 edition of Reb Bradley’s Child Training Tips: What I Wish I knew When My Children Were Young, “a toddler… should be chastised each time he chooses to defy your authority”. Earlier in the book, Bradley writes “chastisement uses a lightweight rod on the bottom.”
Elsewhere, Biblical Discipline That Makes Children Fun!, a 2017 publication by William Farley and Judith Farley emphasises that children are “sinful” by definition, encouraging parents to resort to corporal punishment for mild behaviours such as pouting about not being given a sweet, all whilst sermonising about the sinfulness of grumbling.
William Farley says he makes clear that “If corporal punishment ever becomes “child beating” it should be immediately outlawed … And it almost never occurs when the discipliners are the married biological parents of the child.” (That’s not backed up by Office of National Statistics figures, which show that it’s fathers and then mothers, rather than step-parents or unmarried partners, who primarily enact physical violence against children). He also provided us with a copy of his pamphlet Is Spanking Child Abuse?, which reiterates his position that spanking “drives violence from the child’s heart”.
And the book How to Give a Spanking: How to Spank your Child with Love & Punishment by Alyson Jodene, currently number 178 in Amazon UK’s Parenting Babies & Toddlers Kindle Store section, warns against spanking too gently, because, if punishment isn’t sufficiently painful, “your child will not flinch or cry.” We were unable to reach the author or her publisher for comment.
The books analysed for this article are most popular in their native United States, where titles such as Ted Tripps’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart ranks 146 in the expansive Parenting chart. Many of them feature prominently in off-site book lists, such as Goodreads’s Christian parenting section and even its general parenting section.
While some of the books, like How to Give a Spanking, make their content clear, others are more unobtrusively positioned alongside more compassionate guides to raising children, with little warning as to their content, bar the occasional review by a shocked parent.
However, the sale of the books isn’t new. Amazon has previously been criticised for its distribution of material promoting the beating of children. In 2014, 144,867 people signed a petition addressed to Amazon.com against To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl, which tells parents to hit infants under the age of one with a ruler and whip older kids with lengths of PVC tubing.
The book has been linked to several deaths and got significant media attention in 2013. At the time, Amazon told BBC News: “This book has been widely debated in the media, and on Amazon, for many years, and anyone who wishes to express their views about this title is free to do so on its product page on our website.”
A number of the books promoting the hitting of children are closely associated with specific US evangelical Christian groups, including the Pearls’ No Greater Joy Ministries and Reb Bradley’s Family Ministries. To Train Up A Child remains on sale in a new and expanded 2015 edition.
And corporal punishment, although fully criminalised in many European countries including Estonia, Slovenia and France, is currently still permitted in the UK on a case-by-case basis, if no marks are made, in England and Wales through the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ under section 58 of the Children Act 2004 and also under section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003.
In January, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, called for a full ban: “The current legislation in England, which grants an exemption from the law on common assault to allow the physical punishment of children, is outdated.”
That’s on the way to changing Wales, as well as in Scotland where a bill to give children the right not to be assaulted is also moving through the Scottish Parliament with significant cross-party support.
“What may have been deemed as appropriate in the past is no longer acceptable. Our children deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity as adults,” Morgan told the Welsh National Assembly on September 17. In May, the Scottish Parliament backed a smacking ban introduced by Green MSP John Finnie’, who said: “My intention in bringing forward the bill is to bring clarity to the law by removing the defence of reasonable chastisement, sometimes referred to as justifiable assault, and to send a clear message that the physical punishment of children is not acceptable.”
An Amazon spokesperson gave no indication that anything would change when British legislation changes, but told us that the Waterstones in the UK is among other retailers selling many of the same books. We were only able to find a single edition of one book in Chinese that could be ordered in by Waterstones, and none of the problematic volumes are on sale there in English. Waterstones had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
For most of the books we looked at, Amazon is the only UK source without explicitly seeking out the authors’ own retail sites. But while most bookshops tailor their catalogues to match the laws and culture of the countries where they operate, Amazon remains conspicuously unfiltered, at least until a given item gets enough negative attention to warrant closer examination by the company.
Earlier this year, we investigated the prevalence of dangerous fake autism “cure” books on the platform, prompting Amazon to remove some of the worst offenders, and it removed some anti-vaxx propaganda films from its video platform in the wake of another investigation. In researching this feature, we also found books outlining conspiracy theories about vaccines and propaganda against the contraceptive pill.
All Rights Reserved for K.G Orphanides