A husband and wife in Sarasota, Florida, have been accused of child abuse after they allegedly told authorities that they routinely tied up and locked their 12-year-old daughter inside a playhouse.

In an affidavit cited by CBS-affiliate WTSP, the 1.5m by 2m playhouse was described by a detective as a "glorified cage".

"She wasn't allowed to leave the playhouse to use the restroom," Sheriff's Lieutenant Joe Giasone told WTSP. "She'd have to do all that inside."

Police allege that Eugenio Erquiaga, a doctor, and his wife, Victoria, a lawyer, used zip ties to restrain the girl's ankles and wrists before locking her inside the cramped enclosure for hours on end, according to WTSP.

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The playhouse could be barred shut with a piece of wood, had most of its windows screwed shut and smelled of urine, according to CBS-affiliate WINK.

Police said the couple - who were arrested on Wednesday - told investigators that their daughter was prone to violent outbursts and the restraints were used to protect the family's six other children, according to WTSP. Police said the couple came up with the method of restraint recently, after seeing zip ties used in a television show featuring police.

The pair is facing aggravated child abuse charges

The couple's attorney, Derek Byrd, urged the public to withhold judgment about the parenting style.

"I'm certain any people in the public would say that's not the way they would handle it, and they're entitled to their opinion," he told WTSP. "The question is, is it criminal to handle a problematic child that way?"

The alleged abuse may have escaped authorities' attention if the victim hadn't fled her family's house, finding her way to a neighbour's home.

Sean Macindoe, the 19-year-old neighbour, told WTSP the girl said: "My parents abandoned me. I was left and ran away."

The 12-year-old girl, who was adopted, was part of a large group of biological and adopted children in the Erquiaga household, according to CBS News. In addition to two other adopted children, the family also includes four biological children from 5 to 13 years old.

The couple's other children are in custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families, but police said none of them have reported abuse or neglect to authorities, CBS reported.