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Rights Group Urges Better Protection For Women, Children in War Zones - 2002-05-02

The international humanitarian group, Save the Children, is calling on the world to pay greater attention to protecting women and children in conflict situations. The appeal came in a report that looks at the status of mothers and children in 105 countries.

Save the Children's Director of the "Children in Crisis Program," Neil Boothby, says the aim of the report is to raise global awareness for the need to change humanitarian responses to war.

"We focus on food. We focus on shelter. We focus on rebuilding roads and buildings, but we don't focus on rebuilding lives or protecting women and children," he said. "And I think that's a mistake."

The report, issued in Washington Thursday, gives Switzerland, Canada, Norway Denmark and Sweden the top spots.

At the bottom of Save the Children's list, Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Mali and Ethiopia. Other countries ranked among the 10 lowest include Guinea, Gambia, Nepal, and Benin.

Mr. Boothby says there also is a strong need for more attention to be paid to women and children in the Middle East. He just returned from the West Bank and did not want to take either the Israeli or Palestinian side.

"But what I can say is that I heard messages and I saw evidence on both sides of this conflict that indicate that enmity, hatred, intergenerational hatred, is being passed on from adults to children," he said. "And I think it's important to realize that children form their allegiances, their political concepts, very early in life. It begins at one's mother's breast, and it moves on to include the larger family, and it moves on to include people outside the family." One woman from the Gaza strip, Save the Children staffer Firyal Snounu, came to the United States for the first time with two of her seven children.

"While I am here, I worry about my other five children, most especially my 13-year-old son Mahmoud, whom all the time I try to keep him away from being involved in the violent events," she said. "He doesn't want to fight. He wants to play. He thinks, like his other friends, what is going on in Gaza is a game."

Ms. Snounu concluded by saying that in the end, mothers everywhere - both in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip - want their children to be safe, happy, healthy and educated. She said this is the reason why she thinks investing in mothers is such a good idea.

This comment was echoed by the Save the Children report, which calls on the United States to respond to conflict with specific programs that focus on the care and protection of women and children.