For Parents

How to report abuse

Types of abuse. How to report it

Child abuse is forbidden; however, abuse is a phenomenon to which, unfortunately, a significant number of children are subjected.

There are many definitions of child abuse, bringing together different concepts from different fields (legal, psychological, sociological, social work, etc.). This multiplicity of intersecting fields in cases of abuse is both an advantage and a challenge: on the one hand, it ensures comprehensive protection for the child who has been the victim of abuse, but on the other, the different approaches can be difficult to reconcile. It is important to emphasise that any action taken in such cases must have as its guiding principle respect for the best interests of the child.

From a legal point of view, abuse is defined by Law No 272/2004 on the protection and promotion of the rights of the child. According to the law, abuse is “any voluntary action by a person who is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or authority towards the child, by which the child’s life, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development, bodily integrity, physical or mental health are endangered”.

In short, the main elements of abuse are:

  • a voluntary action → it is necessary that the person doing the abusive action does it deliberately, so we are not talking about an accident or something unpredictable.
  • a relationship of responsibility, trust or authority → an abuse also presupposes an already existing relationship between the abuser and the abused person. This position also presupposes a relationship of trust on the part of the child, a trust that the abuser uses.
  • endangering life, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development → this is the main consequence of abuse. The abuse does not need to leave physical traces, it mainly needs to endanger the child.

The law also goes on to list the types of abuse according to the actions taken:

  • physical abuse → physical assault, hitting, other violence.
  • Emotional abuse → abusive behaviour that does not take physical form, criticism, provoking feelings of shame, threats, refusal to communicate.
  • Psychological abuse → largely similar to emotional abuse. Among its manifestations, we recognise the need to control the other person, criticism, manipulation. If emotional abuse is repetitive and sustained, it leads to damage to various levels of the child’s psyche (e.g. personality structure, affect, cognition, adaptation, perception), becoming psychological abuse, which has more serious long-term consequences for the child’s development than emotional abuse.
  • sexual abuse → sexual activities with a child (where coercion is used or a recognised position of power or vulnerability of the child is abused), child prostitution and pornography, child corruption, child grooming.

This category may include:

  • sexual molestation, exposing the child to sexual slurs or language, and touching the child’s erogenous zones by hand or kissing, regardless of the child’s age;
  • situations leading to the satisfaction of the sexual needs of an adult or another child who is in a position of responsibility, power or trust with the child victim;
  • enticing or coercing a child to perform obscene acts;
  • exposing the child to obscene material or providing such material to the child, etc;
  • early marriage or engagement of children involving sexual relations (especially in Roma communities);
  • genital mutilation;
  • economic abuse → the child does not have access to the resources he or she needs to develop: food, clothing and shoes, financial resources for education, etc.

Internationally, in some conceptions, abuse is more comprehensive in that it includes the concept of negligence. “Child physical abuse is the intentional, non-accidental use of force or intentional, non-accidental acts of omission by a parent or other caregiver in interaction with a child placed in his or her care with the purpose of harming, injuring or killing the child.”[1] In our country, neglect is considered an involuntary as well as a voluntary action/omission (“Child neglect means the omission, whether voluntary or involuntary, of a person having responsibility for the upbringing, care or education of a child to take any action required to fulfil that responsibility which endangers the life, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development, bodily integrity, physical or mental health of the child”)[2].

The definition of abuse in Law 272/2004 contains many elements that are also found in the content of the offences in the Penal Code. Indeed, such similarities (e.g. the relationship of responsibility, trust or authority that must be present between the abuser and the abused child or the endangerment of the child’s life or development by the abusive actions) are not such as to cause a conflict between the 2 regulations – they only reinforce an overall view of the seriousness of child abuse.

The mention in Law 272/2004 is such as to give the institutions competent in the field of child rights protection the possibility to intervene also in criminal cases of child abuse, given the seriousness of the act. It is only through the cooperation of such institutions with a role in the protection of children against abuse and neglect that respect for the rights and best interests of the child can be effectively ensured.

As anticipated above, the areas of intervention in these cases also influence the way in which abuse is reported.

By reporting abuse we mean the actual bringing to the attention of the authorities of the facts constituting child abuse.

The main institution that comes to mind when talking about reporting abuse is the police/public prosecutor’s office. Indeed, the Code of Criminal Procedure states that the criminal investigation bodies (most often the police) or, in some cases, the public prosecutor, are the institutions empowered to carry out the prosecution[3].

However, as the abuse does not constitute a criminal offence, it falls within the competence of the General Directorates for Social Assistance and Child Protection to take all necessary actions to establish the child’s need for protection and the need for further referral to the criminal authorities.

Therefore, possible ways to report abuse are as follows:

  • calling the emergency number 112 or 119 (single national number for reports of abuse, neglect, exploitation and any other form of violence against children);
  • contact the police station in the area of the person’s home or residence;
  • contacting the General Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection around the child’s home where there is suspicion or where the child is a victim of violence. D.G.A.S.P.C. operates in each county and in each sector of Bucharest.


[1] Gil, D. G. (1971). Violence against Children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 33(4), 639.

[2] Art. 94 para. (2) of Law No. 272/2004 on the protection and promotion of the rights of the child

[3] Articles 56 – 57 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Law no. 135/2010)