Video cameras secretly placed in British hospitals to monitor parents have uncovered horrific cases of child abuse and torture, doctors said Monday.
Parents and stepparents were captured on film sadistically kicking, hitting and trying to suffocate their babies - footage that has cast doubts about the alarming number of crib deaths and led to calls for stricter child-protection laws.Doctors at North Staffordshire Hospital in northern England who conducted the controversial study announced the findings at a news conference ahead of publication in the American medical journal Pediatrics next month.
They said they were shocked by the catalog of abuse that showed how vulnerable children are and urged the United Nations to assure that all countries have child protection procedures.
"We saw parents suffocating their children, we saw them breaking an arm and poisoning their children. We only initiated covert surveillance if we had a lot of concern but couldn't prove abuse was occurring," said Dr. David Southall, who led the study.
In addition to the physical suffering, the doctors also had evidence in some cases of continuous emotional abuse.
Southall and his team used video surveillance cameras in two hospitals to monitor 39 children between 2 months and 44 months old who had undiagnosed medical conditions and who had been suspected by doctors, social workers and police of being at risk of abuse by their parents or stepparents.
Hospital ethics committees approved the video cameras, which revealed that some parents who were affectionate and caring in the presence of hospital staff were cruel and abusive when they were left alone with their children.
"This is an important diagnostic tool that should be available for rare cases where there is real concern that a child is suffering life-threatening abuse," Dr. Martin Samuel, a pediatrician who took part in the study, said in an interview.
Protective care orders were issued in 38 of the 39 cases as a result of the study. Thirty-three parents face criminal charges.