More than 100 members of a fundamentalist church that promotes spanking with paddles and sticks have fled their homes in Canada because they fear their children will be seized by the authorities.
The women and children have left Canada for rural communities in the American Midwest, where they are considering seeking asylum. Child welfare workers in Ontario have already taken a group of seven siblings because of the extreme corporal punishment used by their parents.
The 28 women and their 80 children are all members of the Church of God, a non-denominational church in Aylmer, Ontario. The church says that corporal punishment is encouraged by the Bible.
No one from the Aylmer church was available for comment yesterday, but David Layne, a Church of God pastor from California and the group's spiritual adviser, told the Washington Post: "The whole issue is spanking and discipline, and how we see in modern times that when parents don't discipline their children it leads to all kinds of societal problems."
The families have moved to Ohio and Indiana, which they say have more permissive laws governing corporal punishment for children than Ontario, which allows it only within the bounds of "reasonable force". Canadian case law has interpreted that as prohibiting the use of objects such as paddles, sticks and belts.
In the United States, there are no laws that make parental corporal punishment illegal. But there are child-abuse laws that define when a child subjected to corporal punishment is considered abused.
The exodus from Canada took place three weeks ago when child welfare officials ordered a second family of Church of God members to report for interview.
All the congregation's other mothers and children under 16 left to live with church members in Ohio and Indiana. Many fathers remained behind in Canada because of their jobs.
One of the mothers in Farmland, Indiana, Christine Rabel, told the newspaper that she occasionally used a switch or stick on her four children, aged between nine months and eight years. "I was raised that way and that's the way I want to raise my children," she said.
The pastor of her church in Aylmer, the Rev Henry Hildebrandt, has claimed that children enjoy being hit.
"It clearly states in the Bible that corporal punishment should be used and that means more than a hand," he said. "The Bible talks about using an object. We find that works and it works well. [The children] want their parents to do it because it makes them happy children; it keeps them in line."
Marijke den Bak, the acting director of Family and Children's Services for the Aylmer region, said they were "keen to find a resolution and not see this drag on through the courts."Reuse content