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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 14:50 GMT
Filming reveals Czech children still caged
The Czech Republic banned the use of cage-like beds in children's care homes a year ago, under international pressure. But as Clive Myrie reports for the Ten O'Clock News, secret filming shows the use of the beds goes on.

We clustered around the tiny television monitor in our hotel room in the centre of Prague.

Child in a cage bed in the Czech Republic
The beds are a mattress with metal bars forming a cage around it

Along with BBC producer Annie Allison, and cameraman John Landy, I watched with fascination and horror as the video played.

A BBC undercover team had secretly filmed life inside a social care home in the Czech Republic.

The pictures were surprisingly clear. Youngsters with severe mental and physical disabilities were being housed in so-called "cage beds".

Finally, we had evidence that a member of the European Union was not fulfilling its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

EU membership has been kind to the Czech Republic. It is the most stable and prosperous of the post-Communist states.

But it is also a deeply conservative land with firm traditions.

Hidden away

Travel beyond the capital Prague into the countryside and this is where you will find more than 200 social care homes housing around 10,000 people with mental and physical disabilities.

For decades those who were not considered perfect in body and mind by the state were hidden away.

We are trying - it's difficult to put in a comprehensive system of monitoring overnight
Martin Zarsky
Ministry of Social Affairs

Some of those in care homes were also kept in special beds surrounded by high metal bars or thick netting. These cage beds horrified the international community, and at the beginning of 2007 the Czechs banned them.

But late last year we got word that some social care homes might be flouting the law.

Our contact had worked as a carer for more than 20 years and pointed us in the right direction.


We soon assembled an undercover filming team who would pretend they were working for a charity giving toys out to children to gain access. No-one at any of the care homes suspected they were journalists.

In the first one they visited they were escorted down a long corridor. Faint sounds could be heard coming from a room nearby - the sound of children wailing.

Child in a cage bed in the Czech Republic
Anger at being locked up soon gives way to despair, say experts

The care home director didn't want to show the team what was going on, but they politely insisted the door was opened. Inside were cage beds, each 5ft (1.5m) tall.

There were four in all, each containing a youngster who was clearly severely mentally and physically disabled. They lay on a mattress with metal bars forming a cage around it.

A member of staff unlocked one cage in the corner, pulling down the heavy iron bars to demonstrate how it was opened. She did not touch the person inside. She then lifted the gate back up and locked it in place.

Only then did she reach through the bars to stroke the head of the male teenager inside, as if stroking an animal in its cage at the zoo.

Our team was told he could be aggressive - that he was locked up to protect himself and others.

Broken spirits

I wanted to find out what happens to the mind of someone who spends much of their life in a cage, so I spoke to Prof Sheila Hollins, who is President of the UK's Royal College of Psychiatrists.

We showed her some of the secret footage our undercover team had recorded and she was visibly moved.

She told me that it was likely when a person was first put in the cage they would protest, cry and scream, but that it wouldn't take long for the protests to give way to despair and depression.

After a while, she said, the captive would simply become compliant and resigned to their fate, because their spirit was broken.

Our undercover team then visited a social care home in the north of the country near the German border.

Here, they found one teenager who had been living in a cage bed for 12 years.

He was sitting upright with his head bowed. He barely moved. Around him were just blank walls and the iron bars of his cage. There was nothing to stimulate his mind, no colourful pictures or posters. The cage was his world.

'Need more time'

Of the eight social care homes our undercover team visited, five were still using cage beds in clear defiance of the law.

We wanted to know why the government wasn't more vigorously inspecting and monitoring the homes.

Martin Zarsky, from the Ministry of Social Affairs, wrote the law banning cage beds. He agreed to look at the findings of our investigation.

"Based on what I've seen," he told me, "we will establish immediately an inspection team. Sanctions could follow - the most serious being to withhold the care home's licence.

"We are trying. It's difficult to put in a comprehensive system of monitoring overnight with independent experts. The new law is only 12 months old. We need time."

'No excuses'

It is true the Czech social care system is woefully underfunded, and there is a shortage of well-trained staff.

These have been reasons cited in the past for the use of cage beds.

But campaigners say there should be no excuses and the government must be more pro-active in dealing with the issue.

If the Czech Republic is truly to fulfil its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, then it must look after all its citizens - including those who have been warehoused in cages for society's convenience.

Child in a cage bed in the Czech Republic Caged Czech children revealed

Q&A: Cage beds
15 Jan 08 |  Europe
Czech man's week in a cage
07 Jul 04 |  Crossing Continents
Country profile: Czech Republic
01 May 04 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Czech Republic
15 May 04 |  Country profiles

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