In Britain, one among ten children face ill-treatment at home in the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse but only one tenth of cases are actually reported. Eventually what comes to light is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.
Professor Ruth Gilbert, from University College London, who led the study, said the magnitude of the problem might simply 'overwhelm' the social services, if all cases of child abuse actually came to light.
According to Dr Richard Reading, from the University of East Anglia, statistics show that parents who hit their children run a greater risk of being abusers. He said, "In general parents who resort to physical punishment are also more likely statistically to be abusers."
According to Professor Gilbert, many of the suspicions noted by teachers, nurses and GPs did not come out fearing potential separation from parents and its consequences on the welfare of the child.
She said: "On a population basis this is a much bigger problem than is recognised.
"When it is recognised by professionals it often doesn't get reported.
"When it does get reported there are issues about whether investigation and assessment go hand in hand with services.
"The evidence ... is that that does not always seem to be the case."
The state needs to think out of the box to assist parents and safeguard children without any extra baggage of stigma, which a social services investigation might bring.
Dr Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, said: "This is a much bigger public health problem than is currently perceived and the risk factors reach deep into society."