Two Twelve Tribes communities have been raided by police in Germany following a documentary that showed children being beaten.
The raids in Bavaria led to 40 children being taken away and placed in foster care. Police suspect they had spent their lives being beaten within these fundamentalist communities, the Independent reports.
Wolfram Kuhnigk, a journalist with Germany's RTL television channel, used secret cameras to film a small blonde-haired boy of around four being beaten repeatedly by a woman in a cellar.
The woman tells him to say that he is tired. When he refuses, he pulls down his pants and hits him with a willow cane three times. When he refuses again, he is hit again. After receiving 10 lashes, he says "I am tired".
Over the next few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar beating six children. In total, they are hit 83 times.
In another part of the film, a baby is forcibly gripped by the back of his head in a practice known as "restraining".
Twelve Tribes is a fundamentalist sect that originated in the US around 40 years ago. It has an estimated 3,000 members across the globe who live in isolated communities. There are branches in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, Argentina, Canada and the Czech Republic.
Members believe the Old and New Testaments are God's direct word and they believe children should be hit in order to "drive out the devil".
The Bavarian sect has been investigated by police several times over the last 10 years over child abuse allegations, but sufficient evidence has never been found to prosecute members.
However, Kuhnigk's film shows abuse taking place in a former monastery, with children being subjected to constant surveillance and being beaten for trivial offences.
It shows how the children are made to get up at 5am and stand up during an hour-long prayer session. They are forced to work with adults in the community farm plots and workshops and attend the sect's own schools.
Alfred Kanth, spokesman for the youth welfare service in Bavaria, told RTL: "We never had proof that they do this. It is terrible, they preach peace but they beat their children."
The film ends with two elderly men from Twelve Tribes denying allegations of child abuse during the police raids: "We do not abuse our children," one said.
Twelve Tribes says it is the victim of persecution from authorities. Explaining its use of physical force on its website, it says: "We know that some people consider this aspect of our life controversial, but we have seen from experience that discipline keeps a child from being mean-spirited and disrespectful of authority."
Bavarian prosecutors said they are currently investigating Twelve Tribes' activities.