BERLIN (AP) – Some 3,500 children under age 15 die from physical abuse and neglect in rich countries every year, with Mexico and the United States recording among the highest death rates, a UN study said yesterday. Spain, Greece and Italy were the countries with the lowest death rates from child mistreatment in the 27 industrialized nations surveyed by UNICEF, the UN children’s fund. While data indicate that fatal violence against children is declining in most rich countries, it is still far from being recognized as a serious problem, said Marta Santos-Pais, head of a UNICEF research agency that compiled the survey. «It has to become part of the political agenda and the social agenda in each country,» she told reporters. «We hope to show that there are too many cases of child deaths and mistreatment for us to remain passive.» Two children die from abuse and neglect every week in Germany and Britain, three a week in France, four a week in Japan and 27 in the United States, the report said. However, the study cautioned that national data were «very varied in quality,» making comparisons difficult because reporting requirements differ from country to country. When each country’s under-15 population was taken into account and only deaths officially linked to child abuse considered, the United States and Mexico had the highest death rates, followed by New Zealand, Hungary and Austria. Attempting to get a broader picture, the study added child deaths classified as «of undetermined intent» to the official deaths over the last five years for which each country’s data were available. By that count, the United States had 7,081 deaths, followed by Mexico with 4,974 and Japan with 916. Portugal then showed the highest death rate, ahead of the United States and Mexico. The study made no attempt to explain why individual countries have high or low rates of child abuse deaths. But it said that drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and stress are key factors that can lead to child abuse. Biological parents are responsible for most physical abuse of children – about 80 percent, the study said. Children aged 1 to 4 are at the highest risk of dying from violent abuse, it said. The report said only seven countries have explicitly outlawed all physical punishment of children – Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The study covered countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which groups 27 rich countries in Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region.