(asked by Kelly from the US)

In America we have disclosure laws that state that if you a teacher, clergy member, or public worker is informed of someone who is abusing a child, someone who is elderly, or is told by someone that they are going to commit suicide or a crime, we are required by law to report that to the authorities. If a teacher even suspects physical, sexual, or other kinds of abuse going on with a child, they are required to report even the suspicion. Are there any similar laws in France? What is the responsibility or normal procedure if someone working in child care or counseling knows a child is at risk?
Hi Kelly, and thanks for your question, it’s a very interesting one.
My first answer to your question would be that I don’t know if there is such a law, and it doesn’t matter.
Wait, what!? 
Here is why. In France, we have a law that everybody knows and that is called “loi de non-assistance à personne en danger.” I assume you can understand the title, all of the words in it are cognates (just in case, loi is law).
Here is the official text for this law:
Quiconque pouvant empêcher par son action immédiate, sans risque pour lui ou pour les tiers, soit un crime, soit un délit contre l’intégrité corporelle de la personne s’abstient volontairement de le faire est puni de cinq ans d’emprisonnement et de 75 000 euros d’amende.
Sera puni des mêmes peines quiconque s’abstient volontairement de porter à une personne en péril l’assistance que, sans risque pour lui ou pour les tiers, il pouvait lui prêter soit par son action personnelle, soit en provoquant un secours.
In plain English it means that if you’re witnessing a situation where anybody is in danger, you are required by law to help this person as long as you don’t put yourself or anybody else in danger. If you don’t, you will be sentenced to five years in prison and a €75,000 fine.
Help can come in many forms depending on the situation, it includes intervening yourself, but also asking for help if you can’t and there are other people around who can, or simply, calling the authorities.
This law is somewhat well-known is France, although some people misunderstand it at times, some think that they have to intervene no matter what, even if it puts them in danger, so they walk away and then they’re afraid to go to jail and live in guilt… oh well…
So basically, anything pertaining to child abuse would fall under this law and it applies to anybody, not just teachers, public workers and so one.
Now, I dug a little further and I found a specific law dealing with child abuse:
Le fait, pour quiconque ayant eu connaissance de privations, de mauvais traitements ou d’atteintes sexuelles infligés à un mineur de quinze ans ou à une personne qui n’est pas en mesure de se protéger en raison de son âge, d’une maladie, d’une infirmité, d’une déficience physique ou psychique ou d’un état de grossesse, de ne pas en informer les autorités judiciaires ou administratives est puni de trois ans d’emprisonnement et de 45000 euros d’amende.
It says that if anybody is aware of any kind of abuse, bad treatment, molestation of a minor under age 15 or of anybody that can’t protect themselves due to their age, medical condition (disease, physical or mental disability) or pregnancy, and if they don’t report it to judicial or administrative authority will be condemned to three years of imprisonment as well as a € 45,000 fine.
When does the first one applies and when does the second one applies, I have no idea. 
If anybody who went to French law school or is a lawyer and want to give their two cents, feel free.
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  9 Responses to “What is the responsibility or normal procedure if someone working in child care or counseling knows a child is at risk?”

  1. Thanks for this - a very interesting article. In the UK we have police checks on anyone who works with children but there don't appear to be any such vetting procedures here?

  2. Well, I didn't mention background checks because it was not part of the question. :-)
    I don't know the details, but to be able to work with children, you need to have various official certifications depending on what job it is you'll do with them.
    However, more generally, when starting a new job in France, you usually need to provide your criminal record to your employer, and for most jobs dealing with the public, it'd better be empty.

  3. Thanks for answering this - I asked this a while back after getting my education degree in the US. I've lived in France for one year now and your responses are very interesting. Two weeks ago I saw a man kick his toddler with full force in La Poste and nobody even blinked. Thank you for clarifying the legal obligations here.

  4. You're welcome (and yeah, I'm more than behind in my answers, but I'm trying to catch up).

    Concerning the man and his toddler, it really depends, how young the kid was and how hard the dad kicked (what do you mean my "kicked")?

    I know that something that shocks Americans sometimes is to see parents slap their kids, but it's totally normal in France (and many other countries), and as long as you don't actually hurt them (just leave a good scare and a hot cheek), it can be a good thing if done under the right circumstances (that is as a form of teaching the kids limits, some bad parents misuse it). I even think that the US needs more slapping, I've met many adult Americans that obviously weren't slapped enough in their young years (and now they have respect issues)

  5. I was quite interested to see that pregnant women are listed in the group of people given extra legal protection by that law. That seems surprising to me, but I guess one could come up with reasons why this might make sense. Thank you for the post, but for the most recent comment I'm going to have to disagree with you. Perhaps the last sentence was a joke (?) but the rest seemed to be an opinion that is contrary to the published findings of researchers in the subject, who have concluded over and over again that corporal punishment is not effective in child rearing. Well, and besides that it's just wrong, sorry. There is no way it "doesn't actually hurt". If you want to do a country comparison, try Sweden - with a very low tolerance for corporal punishment and no 'respect issues' that I'm aware of. I'm all for understanding and respecting French cultural differences, but for me, this is a tough one. It's not really acceptable to kick a toddler in France, though…right?

  6. Why do you find surprising that pregnant women get special rights? I see it as going along being allowed special seats in public transportation and stuff…

    About corporal punishment as I mentioned, this is a cultural thing, and I know that North Americans won't understand that, they'll even use the "it's wrong" and the "published findings" arguments. (if you knew how research in sociology and such is done).
    By "doesn't actually hurt" I should have said "injure" maybe. Yes, a slap hurts, it's supposed to hurt, but 30 seconds later, it doesn't hurt anymore, that's what I meant.

    And Sweden has no "respect issue" because we're dealing with a nation that is basically born depressed. :-)

    Seriously though, slapping a badly behaved kid, when it's done properly (not too often, and not too softly nor too harshly) is one of the best way to teach him when he's being bad. But seriously, I don't want to debate the issue, I know we won't understand each other.

    As for is it acceptable to kick a toddler, it all depends what the "kick" really is. For somebody who thinks that kids shouldn't be touched, the small slap could be considered a "kick". See what I means?
    So, what I consider a kick (done with the fist or the foot with the purpose of hurting a lot, possibly injuring) is not acceptable. Slapping him because he's being a little asshole is not only acceptable but the right thing most of the time.

  7. The question of corporal punishment is minor . Society as a whole educates children . When a society shows by every mean youngsters owe respect to olders, it's easy for parents to give a right education to their children . At that point, clever parents don't need corporal things so much, there are other means as long as the line is clear .
    By traveling in many types of societies, and by remembering how things went on in western world up to the 70's, I can say the modern western world is mad in education field . Never in the centuries, and nowhere in the rest of the world has anybody seen so spoilt and useless young creatures than the ones our society has created .
    I need to go to India, to Morocco, to Mexico, to Africa sometimes to help me remembering how children can be a pleasure .
    Relevant corporal punishments have never traumatized anybody . As a kid I received my lot, just like all my mates, and there was no problem . The only important thing in education is consistency .
    In my youg adult time, I had hippies friends who brought up their kids in an extreme liberal way, and to my surprise, those kids grew up marvelous . I knew very strict parents who got nice results too . The thing is consistency in your everyday attitude . That's what the little humans need . When they grow up, they'll develop their own ways, just like we did, even fighting against our parents' consensus .

  8. The slaps were shocking at first, but I understand it is a cultural difference; American mothers can be seen slapping bottoms and legs. I have also noticed that French mothers tend to let their children cry, where American mothers are quick to plug them up with a snack or a pacifier.

    As for the kick, it was pretty much a full-fledged kick, the man was wearing a boot, and the child was probably 3 or 4. I caught myself slack-jawed and wide-eyed but confronting the man could have been dangerous as he seemed extremely angry and continued shouting at the child. (The child had run up behind him laughing and hit him on the bottom, still not justification (in my mind) for kicking him.)

    At the end of the day, the cultural norms for raising children are a matter of perspective, but caretakers' responsibilities in protecting those who are truly being abused is another issue. Thanks again for your clarifications.

  9. You're very welcome.

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