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Discipline Often Abuse, Poll Finds Nearly 1 In 20 Parents Cause Physical Harm When Punishing Kids

Nearly 1 in 20 parents disciplined their children so severely in 1994 that they were committing physical abuse, a nationwide Gallup poll released Wednesday shows.

The study produced figures substantially higher than any previously recorded by a national organization. There were 3 million reported cases of physical abuse in 1994, according to the Chicago-based National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

Gallup and child advocacy officials said the findings were the result of a broad definition of what constitutes physical abuse. The poll’s release comes as New York residents and public officials grapple with a well-publicized case of child abuse that ended in death.

In the Gallup study, the most prevalent form of parental discipline - striking a child somewhere other than their buttocks with an object, such as a belt or brush - is not always considered physical abuse by some child advocacy officials.

Under this poll’s definition, the once-common punishment of some Catholic school nuns and parents, striking a student’s hands with a ruler, would be abusive. However, human service officials said that unless the act was performed repeatedly or it caused an injury, the adult would not be cited by an agency for physical abuse.

Still, several of the 1,000 parents surveyed admitted to committing other acts poll and human service officials classify as physical abuse: Kicking or hitting a child with a fist; shaking a child age 2 or younger; throwing or knocking down a child; purposefully burning or scalding a child; and choking a child.