TERRASSON, FRANCE (AFP) - France was in shock Monday after the discovery of an underfed and dehydrated baby girl who had been forced to live in a car boot, apparently since birth.
The little girl, aged between 15 and 23 months, was found by mechanics on Friday when her mother brought the car to a garage in Terrasson, in central France. Police said one of the mechanics heard "bizarre noises, like moans" coming from the car boot and opened it to discover the girl, who was naked, lying in her own excrement, dehydrated and feverish.
The girl was taken to hospital where doctors said she was suffering from delayed growth and mental problems.
The girl "was hidden, it seems since birth, and more seriously, she is suffering from significant (developmental) delays", local prosecutor Jean-Pierre Laffite told AFP. The situation "defies belief", he said.
The girl's mother, 45, and her 40-year-old partner were arrested and charged on Sunday with child abuse and endangering a minor. The two are facing up to 10 years in prison. The mother told police that she had given birth in secret and hidden the baby's existence from everyone, including her partner, the girl's father.
The couple had three other children - a four-year-old girl and two boys aged nine and 10 - who were handed over to social services following their parents' arrest. The couple were both of Portuguese origin and both unemployed.
The mechanic who found the girl, Mr Guillaume Iguacel, told AFP on Monday that he was still reeling from the discovery.
"I'm still having trouble sleeping. It was a horrifying sight, seeing this little girl in her own excrement, not able to hold up her head, white as a sheet," he said.
Mr Iguacel said the girl's mother appeared to have little concern for her daughter.
"We were deeply shocked because she didn't find this abnormal. We told her to remove the little girl (from the boot) and give her something to drink right away," he said.