More than 350 million children, more than ever before, are living in conflict areas and are at risk of death and violence, according to the Save the Children charity.
- Report claims more than 73,000 children have been killed or maimed since 2005
- 357 million children living in conflict zones, up 75 per cent since early 1990s
- Children from the Middle East are most likely to live in conflict areas
Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia were ranked to be the worst countries for young people.
In a report, the global charity said at least 357 million children — or one in six worldwide — were living in conflict zones, an increase of 75 per cent since the early 1990s.
Increased urbanisation, longer–running conflicts and a rise in the number of schools and hospitals being targeted heightened the danger for children, according to Save the Children.
Other threats included abduction and sexual violence.
"We are seeing a shocking increase in the number of children growing up in areas affected by conflict, and being exposed to the most serious forms of violence imaginable," Helle Thorning-Schmidt, chief executive of the charity, said in a statement.
"Children are suffering things no child ever should; from sexual violence to being used as suicide bombers. Their homes, schools and playgrounds have become battlefields," added Ms Thorning-Schmidt, the former prime minister of Denmark.
United Nations figures show more than 73,000 children have been killed or maimed in 25 conflicts since 2005, the year it started collating such statistics, according to the report.
Since 2010, the number of UN–verified cases of children being killed and maimed had gone up by almost 300 per cent.
But aid agencies claimed the true figure was likely to be far higher, given the difficulties of verifying accounts in conflict zones.
The charity's report highlighted cases such as Yemeni teenager Mutaz, who lost his eyesight and his left arm after picking up an explosive device in the hope he could sell it for scrap metal.
It also told the story of Alyne in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a girl of 10 who fled her village after militia burned down their school.
Save the Children said the worsening situation for children in conflict zones was due to increased fighting in towns and cities, and the growing use of bombs in densely populated areas.
Children are being targeted with more brutal tactics, such as the deployment of youth as suicide bombers and the widespread use of weapons such as barrel bombs, according to the charity.
Those in the Middle East are most likely to be living in a conflict zone — two-fifths of children in the region — followed by Africa, with 20 per cent living in war–torn areas, it said.