The number of children affected by Syria's war doubled in the past year to 5.5 million, the UN said Tuesday, a heartrending picture of an entire generation on the verge of being lost.
And in a report entitled "Under Siege -- the devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria," the UN children's agency UNICEF warned that the situation was likely to get worse.
"Cut off from aid, living in rubble and struggling to find food, many Syrian children have been left without protection, medical care or psychological support, and have little or no access to education," the report said.
"In the very worst cases, children and pregnant women have been deliberately wounded or killed by snipers," it added.
One million children are now trapped in areas of Syria that are under siege or that are hard to reach with humanitarian assistance, and some two million children are in need of psychological support or treatment, the report said.
"For Syria's children, the past three years have been the longest of their lives. Must they endure another year of suffering," asked UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.
Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF's deputy representative in Syria, said witnessing children's suffering and trauma in Syria was heart wrenching.
"This has to come to an end… How much the children are paying as a price is really unacceptable,” she told reporters in Geneva.
- 'Horrific stories'-
Lasseko described a five-year-old girl whom she and UNICEF workers had found wandering around Homs when the evacuation of besieged areas of the central city began last month.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
"Her mother had died in shelling the day before," she said.
So many children "have gone through horrific stories," she said, adding that, "as a mother, when I look at them, I really feel it."
The report said "the future of 5.5 million children inside Syria and living as refugees in neighbouring countries hangs in the balance."
Simon Ingram, UNICEF's regional communications chief in the Middle East and North Africa, said the number of children affected by the war is "already the size of the population of a country like Finland or Denmark."
With children's lives being ruined by violence and severe psychological trauma, as well as the collapse of health and education services, preventing nearly three million kids in Syria from going to school, Ingram said the damage to the generation would soon be irreversible.
"The scale of the crisis and its impact on children and childhood as a concept is now so great that indeed it impacts on the whole future of the country."
"The ability of this rising generation to ever play a part in rebuilding the country once the conflict comes to an end, that is now seriously in question and is being steadily undermined with every day that this conflict goes on," he warned.
He said he hoped the report, which details how more than 10,000 children have been killed and many more maimed, would ignite "more outrage, that more people would be angry about what is happening."
In surrounding countries, 1.2 million Syrian children are now refugees living in camps and overwhelmed host communities, with limited access to clean water, nutritious food or learning opportunities, the report said.
UNICEF estimates that one in 10 refugee children is now working, and that one in every five registered marriages of Syrian females in Jordan is a child under the age 18.
Jordan is home to more than 500,000 Syrian refugees.
"This war has to end so that children can return to their homes to rebuild their lives in safety with their family and friends. This third devastating year for Syrian children must be the last," said Lake.