A 54-year-old elder from a Christian sect in southern Germany has gone on trial on accusations he hit children in his care with a 1.2-meter (four-foot) switch.

The "Twelve Tribes" elder, whose name wasn't given, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of causing seriously bodily injury.

As the Noerdlingen state court trial opened Monday, a 23-year-old, who was 14 at the time of the alleged offenses, testified that the sect's elders randomly "whacked their behinds," the dpa news agency reported.

Authorities raided the sect in southern Germany in 2013 and took 40 children into foster care.

At the time, the sect said there was no "direct evidence against any individual" but on the sect's website, the group said members believe in spanking their children.