Increasingly they are being targeted - and the automation of weapons will make it even worse.
The use of drones and other advanced weapons, increasing urbanisation and the constraints of United Nations mandates will drive up child casualties over the next 20 years, a report warned on Wednesday.
The charity War Child said Syria has become a barometer for what the future of war may look like in terms of the catastrophic damage to children. War Child said children have been used as the pawns of war by all sides in the conflict.
A doctor in Syria told the charity: "Most of the victims are women and children. I have seen very few fighters since I have been here. A lot of the children were shot in the neck or upper body ... they die in front of your eyes. They bleed to death very quickly. It is a truly shocking thing to deal with."
Apart from the direct targeting of children in conflicts, War Child expressed concern about the use of new technologies, such as "autonomous weapons", including drones and killer robots, which are unable to distinguish between a civilian and a combatant, and therefore between an adult and a child.
Noel Sharkey, professor in artificial intelligence and robotics at Sheffield University, said it would be impossible for the next generation of weapons to afford civilians the protection required by international humanitarian law.
"Several nations are beginning the development of autonomous weapons that can select targets and kill them without human supervision," he said. "As with other weapons that cannot discriminate or be proportionate, children will be among the victims. Do we really want to have the indignity of children dying because we delegated the kill decision to machines?"
As warfare occurs overwhelmingly in urban environments and within states, distinguishing between a legal (military target) and civilian ones presents one of the major challenges, the report said. Urbanisation alone could drive up child casualties in cities and towns by more than a third by 2033.
The report said there has been a 45% increase in recorded child casualties from explosive weapons from 2011 to 2012; attacks on education, including the shelling and occupation of schools and attacks on teachers and students, increased by 127% from 2011 to 2012; children injured as a result of the remnants of war (such as landmines) make up most of the victims in many case studies. In Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, children made up 61% and 68% of civilian casualties respectively.
Rob Williams, War Child chief executive, said the current international system is not fit for purpose as it was built on the concept of world wars, as opposed to internal conflicts. He called for urgent action to address the barriers to protection for children in both the wars of today and those of the future.
Williams added: "The Syria conflict has become a barometer for what the future of war may look like in terms of the catastrophic damage to children. The international community must move quickly to find new ways to stop children becoming the innocent victims of war; otherwise the trends show that many more will be suffering and dying by 2033." – © Guardian News & Media 2013