Most Somalis, especially in the capital, Mogadishu, have always lived amid war and joblessness. More than half the country's population was born after the 1991 ouster of Mohammed Siad Barre that sparked the country's slide into anarchy.
"This is a group of people who have never known anything other than conflict and violence," Ahmed Dini, a civil-society activist involved with children and young people's welfare, told IRIN on 24 May.
"They have never had stability in their lives; they moved from one displacement to another with little possibility of getting an education or any other opportunity to earn a decent livelihood," Dini said.
They have developed three ways of coping in such an environment, said Dini. "Some join the violence by being recruited into the fighting groups; others find drugs, such as khat and narcotics, as a way out; while others undertake very dangerous sea journeys to Europe or the Gulf Arab states."
The fighting between government forces backed by the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Al-Shabab insurgents continues in Mogadishu, escalating in the past week, say local sources.
According to UN estimates, at least 2.4 million Somalis need help. These include internally displaced people in areas controlled by Al-Shabab: 410,000 in the Afgoye corridor, 15,200 in the Balad corridor (30km north of Mogadishu) and 55,000 in Dayniile, northwest of Mogadishu.
Some 600,000 Somalis are refugees in neighbouring countries.
Dini said if the conflict were not resolved soon, this generation and others "would be lost for ever, if we have not already lost them".
He told IRIN: "If we don’t find a solution to the youth problem, Somalia's problems will continue into the next 20 years."
Civil society groups such as Dini's are trying to help the youth but, he cautioned, "our efforts are a drop in the ocean. There are too many of them with too many problems and we don’t have much."
Lost teenage years
Abdi Ahmed, 19, has never been to school or done anything that a normal teenager would do.
"My father was killed when I was seven years old; my mother could not afford to send me to school and at the same time feed us," Ahmed told IRIN.
Ahmed's first job at 15 was to be part of a crew of gunmen working for a clansman. "I t ook up my first gun at 15; it is the only thing I know."
|Violence is their recreation, their sport. It is the only thing they have seen since they came into this world|
Ahmed was almost killed when the technical (battle-wagon) he was on was ambushed and three of his colleagues were killed. He and two others were injured.
"I did it because it is the only thing available to me," he said. "If I get other opportunities to help my mother I will take them."
Ahmed is unemployed because the man he was working for could not pay him any more. "I don’t know what is next for me but if my life so far is any guide I am sure I will pick up the gun again."
Another young man, Mohamed Dini Ali, 20, lost his father in the civil war when he was 12 but his family managed to put him through secondary school, which he completed in 2009.
However, Ali did not get a chance to go to university and decided to emigrate. He went to Bosasso, in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, northeastern Somalia, in early 2010 and took a boat to the Gulf.
"I first went to Yemen and then to Saudi Arabia, but I was deported back to Mogadishu," Ali said. "There were no jobs, so I had two choices - join the militias or emigrate and I chose to leave."
In Somalia, Ali said, even if you are not a member of the fighting groups, "you can be accused of being a member of one or other; being young in Somalia, especially Mogadishu, is not good".
Ali said he intended to try to emigrate again. "The only other alternative is joining a militia and I don’t want to do that."
Salado Adow, 39, is the mother of a 15-year-old who has been recruited into a militia group.
"I have removed him three times but each time they take him back," she told IRIN.
Adow said her son was likely to grow up in an environment of violence.
"I cannot blame them [the youth]; there are no other options for them," she said. "Violence is their recreation, their sport. It is the only thing they have seen since they came into this world. I pray that the violence will end, so I don’t lose another child to it.
“I am still hopeful that I will get him back."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions