This week marks one year since I began a petition to ask online retail giant Amazon, not to carry any book which advocates the physical abuse of children. I thought I'd take this chance to write a little bit about the past year of campaigning, and also to wonder...what, if anything, should happen next...?
One evening in August 2011 I was pottering around on Facebook - as you do - and read some information about a book called To Train up a Child, available to buy on both amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. The book's teachings, telling parents how to train their children by using a 'rod', stating that 'any spanking must cause pain' and instructing, 'if you have to sit on him to spank him, do not hesitate', caused my blood to run cold. It seemed unthinkable that not only would someone feel that this was an acceptable way of treating children, but that they would think it was so acceptable that they would write a book about it, and, worse still, that the book would be sold by the world's biggest bookseller! I read a bit more, discovered it was not the only book for sale on Amazon that advocates hitting babies under one with rods, and decided to act. I wrote this post, and set up this petition with change.org. If you want to read some direct quotes from To Train up a Child, please click on this link: http://whynottrainachild.com/2010/04/20/quotes-from-ttuac/ (and please do so before you leap in and comment on this post!)
I've asked myself this question many times. In many ways, the book, and the parenting approach it recommends, belongs to America, and to so-called Christian fundamentalism. Being a non-Christian Brit, I've had the sense on more than one occasion of being out of my cultural depth. In spite of the USA being one of our closest allies, there are many aspects of American culture that baffle me and seem alien and barbaric: the death penalty, child circumcision, paddling of children in schools, everyday folk with guns - to name just a few. Perhaps, I've wondered from time to time, the books are just 'none of my business'. However, I stand by my original motivation for getting involved: as a mother and as a therapist who has worked extensively with adults and children who have been abused and mistreated, standing up for children's rights and speaking up for those who have no voice is a global obligation and has no borders.
The petition took off quite quickly on Facebook and got a real boost in signatures when Dr Momma (Peaceful Parenting) republished my original blog post in September 2011. Then in November this article about To Train up a Child and it's links to the deaths of three children, ran in the New York Times, linking to the petition. Signatures soared, and a spate of articles with links to the petition followed, including this one from Yahoo News, this one from Frank Schaeffer, and this from Lisa Belkin. Other news coverage shone a spotlight on the books without actually referring to the petition, such as the Ungodly Discipline series on Anderson Cooper. More recently, Professor George Holden, a founding member of the U.S Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, gave the petition a mention on Fox News.
High Profile Support
The petition was supported and circulated by the Children's Rights International Network, and signed by a whole host of notable signatories. (For fuller biographies, please click here)
- Prof George.W.Holden, Professor of Psychology, SMU, Chair of theGlobal Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and Promoting Positive Discipline, 2011, Dallas, TX.
- Robert Fathman Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist, Co-Founder of the Center for Effective Discipline and the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools. Co-Chair EPOCH-USA (End Physical Punishment of Children, part of an international federation of organizations seeking to end corporal punishment of children)
- Sue Gerhardt, Psycholanalytic Psychotherapist, author of bestselling book Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes A Baby's Brain.
- Nadine Block, co-founder of the Center for Effective Discipline, co-chair of EPOCH-USA, author of This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You
- Peter Newell, Coordinator of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, and long term advocate for children's rights in the UK and internationally. In England he chaired the NGO Children’s Rights Alliance from 1992 to 2002 and is Coordinator of the Children are Unbeatable! Alliance, campaigning for abolition of all corporal punishment. Consultant to UNICEF, Adviser to the European Network of Ombudspeople for Children.
- Margaret Sims, Professor of Early Childhood, University of New England, NSW, Australia.
- Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, Associate Professor, University of Michigan School of Social Work, author of extensive research on corporal punishment.
- Jordan Riak, Founder and Executive Director of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education
- Margarita Cala, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, NYU School of Medicine
- Frank Schaeffer, author, film director, screenwriter, activist:www.frankschaeffer.com
- Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio
- Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment
- Samuel Martin, biblical scholar and author of Thy Rod and Staff They Comfort Me
- James C. Talbot, author of The Road to Positive Discipline, A Parent's Guide
- Al Crowell, Board member of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education for ten years
- Michael Goldfield, Board member of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education
- Hermana Linda, Campaigner, whynottrainachild.com
- Wendy Priesnitz, Owner and Editor, Natural Life Magazine
- Kjelene Bertrand, Producer of NTR Radio Network
- Norm Lee, Parenting Without Punishing
- Reginald Leamon Robinson, Professor of Law, Howard University School of Law, Washington DC, expert in children in the law and child maltreatment.
- Deb Sendek, Director, Center for Effective Discipline, Child Abuse Prevention Specialist.
- Dr. Madeleine Y. Gómez, PTAVE Board member, President and founder of PsycHealth, Ltd.
- Revd Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Catherdral, writer for The Guardian, founder and President, Inclusive Church.
The Censorship Issue
This question was often raised - shouldn't ALL books be allowed on Amazon? If we believe in freedom of speech, should we sign a petition asking for a book not to be stocked? I wrote a blog post looking at these questions, and again, I would ask, if you wish to join the debate, please kindly read it first! To summarise briefly, there are two main points to be made:
- Freedom of speech is not absolute, and it certainly isn't on Amazon. They do have a policy about what material they stock, they do 'draw lines'. They say that they don't carry 'offensive material'. My argument has always been that such books do contravene these guidelines.
- Whose freedom, whose human rights are more important? The right of the adult to buy or sell the book or the right of the child to be protected from physical harm?
In spite of all the support the petition has received, and over twelve thousand two hundred signatures at the time of writing, Amazon have refused to respond. In my own small way I have tried to put pressure on them, sending out press releases, phoning and emailing them, and blogging away. But I am just one individual with a young family, and more recently I have to admit that I have put my energy into other projects, partly due to frustration at not getting anywhere, and partly because I wanted to stop reading news articles and blogs about child abuse.
I feel that, one year on, the petition would benefit from a new injection of energy, perhaps from someone in the USA who would like to take the campaign further. It really needs someone who is prepared to do a lot of liaising with the press, as this would cause signatures to keep rising and really put the spotlight and the pressure on Amazon. If you think you'd like to get involved, please contact me.
Whatever the future for the petition holds, I don't feel my efforts have been in vain. In some small way, I do feel that the petition has played a part in a constantly unfolding story of the world re-examining it's acceptance of the corporal punishment of children. Twelve thousand people have taken a stand against, not just the books, but a world which doesn't define them as offensive. I am almost certain that this has caused at least one person to pause and hold back from hitting their own child, or even to consider new ways of parenting. And that can only be defined as success.