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US Senator Seeks Legislation to Protect Women, Children in Conflicts

A key member of the U.S. Congress has introduced legislation that would provide funding to help protect women and children worldwide from the ravages of war.

The measure would provide $45 million for initiatives that promote physical and psychological well-being for women and children in conflict areas, as well as equal access to basic services.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, announced the Women and Children in Armed Conflict Protection Act at a Capitol Hill news conference.

"It is a small thing that makes a difference," said Senator Biden. "My hope is this $45 million is a down payment, a down payment on demonstration of our humanity and our concern."

The legislation would, among other things, help refugees get access to work permits and micro-enterprise programs.

Supporters say the measure is needed because traditional humanitarian responses focus on providing food, medical care and shelter needs, while placing less emphasis on the safety and security of women and children.

Supporters say the situation for women and children in conflict areas has gotten increasingly dire over the past century.

"In one century, war has gone from being waged against civilians only five percent of the time to being waged against civilians 90 percent of the time," said Charles MacCormack, president of the non-profit relief organization, Save the Children. "The vast majority of those victims are women and children."

Actress Sally Field, who has done work in support of Save the Children, took part in the news conference, as did war victims' advocate Kim Phuc. Ms. Phuc was the subject of a Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph during the Vietnam War taken in 1972, when she was a child, running naked down a road, screaming in pain from the napalm that was burning through her skin. The photograph has come to epitomize the tragedy of the Vietnam War.

"I hope many more people will become involved in this work to stop the sufferings in wars," said Ms. Phuc. "No mother or father in the world wants what happened in that picture to happen again."

Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York and Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut plan to offer similar legislation in the House of Representatives.