Wars are taking a brutal toll on millions of women and children around the world, according to a report released Thursday by the humanitarian group, Save the Children.
The 44-page report, which also ranks 105 countries according to the health and well-being of mothers and children, is calling on international organizations to pay more attention to the plight of mothers and children in conflict and to the role mothers play in rebuilding war-torn societies.
"This year's report documents the horrific consequences of the world's failure to protect women and children in war and conflict," said Charles MacCormack, president of Save the Children.
"But, with increased investments in women and mothers, we can provide a lifeline to these children and, at the same time, help ensure a region's successful transition from war and disaster to peace and stability," he added.
The report, 'State of the World's Mothers 2002: Mothers and Children in War and Conflict,' found that the general welfare of mothers, as measured by their health status, educational achievement, and political representation, is best assured in Canada and the countries of western and northern Europe. The United States ranked 10th on the list, just ahead of Singapore, several Central European, Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Cuba.
At the bottom of the rankings were mostly poor African countries, some of which, like Burundi, Chad, Mozambique, and Ethiopia, are in conflict or have emerged from conflict in the last decade.
War is particularly hard on children, the report said, which also ranked 156 countries according to children's status and welfare using four criteria covering health and education. Thirty-three of the lowest-ranking 50 countries on that list have experienced recent conflict or are host to large refugee populations.
Afghanistan, at war since 1979, was found at the very bottom of the children's list. One in every six Afghan children dies in the first year of life; 71 percent are not enrolled in school; 88 percent have no access to safe water; and one in every four suffers from malnutrition.
Women and children have also increasingly become the casualties of war, the report said. As much as 90 percent of all casualties in recent conflicts have been civilians, up from 65 percent during World War Two.
Of the world's estimated 35 million refugees, 28 million are women, according to the report. As refugees, their plight is particularly difficult; in addition to caring for children and having to fend off hunger and disease, they are vulnerable to abuse and sexual assault.
"It is damned hard to be a mother in those situations," said Neil Boothby, director of Save the Children's Children in Crisis Unit. "And it's no place to be a child."
The report urged governments, international organizations and relief groups to make greater efforts to ensure the protection and care of women, especially mothers, and children living in conflict areas.
"With access to health care, food, education, and economic opportunities, as well as protection from danger and exploitation, mothers are better able to keep their children safe and raise them successfully, even in situations of extreme adversity," the report notes.
Women also play key roles as "peacemakers and rebuilders" by providing psychological and other support for children and in promoting reconciliation in broken societies, according to the report, which cited collective peacemaking initiatives by women in Russia, Bosnia, Israel-Palestine, Guatemala, and several African countries.
"Women bring to the peace table their practical understanding of the issues confronting them and their communities," according to Graca Machel, the United Nations' independent expert on armed conflict and children and former First Lady Education Minister in Mozambique.
"But even more so," she added, "women's participation in peace processes enhances their legitimacy and sustainability."
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