By Guy Hubbard
BENGHAZI, Libya, 10 November 2011 - It's only when the camera is finally turned off, and we walk across the parade ground of what used to be Benghazi's military headquarters, that Abdul* really opens up. Around us, the buildings are little more than shells and the podium from which Moammar Gaddafi used to watch his troops, a web of twisted steel.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on a young ex-fighter's struggle to cope with normal life in post-conflict Libya. Watch in RealPlayer|
The call to duty
Abdul fought with the rebel forces which eventually overthrew the dictatorial regime. He's only 17 years old, but was recruited into a militia and took part in the battles for the town of Khoms, halfway between Tripoli and Misrata.
“Revolutionary fighters came from Khoms to Benghazi, here they formed a militia,” said Abdul. “We trained for two months and then we went back to Khoms to fight - my brothers were dying in Khoms, so I felt that I had to do this, it was my duty.”
A difficult choice
Abdul took part in some of the worst fighting in Khoms as Gaddafi forces retreated to their remaining strongholds in the town's navy and military base. “When we, the revolutionary fighters, entered Khoms, the Gaddafi forces all retreated to those two places,” he recalled. “That was the worst fighting, 15 of us were killed that day. In our units attack on the brigade, we were split up into groups of five and of my group, 3 men died that I had gotten to know well.”
|© UNICEF video|
|Images on the sides of buildings show Libya's martyrs.|
After the rebels took the town, some continued on to the next frontline, but Abdul returned to Benghazi and went back to school, a choice he says he still regrets. “After the fighting I returned to Benghazi, but it was difficult to choose between the 2 roads, either go back to school and carry on building my future or go on to the next frontline,” he said solemnly. “If I had been able to choose again, if a car from one of the militia groups had come to pick me up and take me to the fighting in Sirte, I would have gone, without a doubt.”
Struggling to cope
Throughout Libya, boys like Abdul, who have fought in Libya's uprising, are struggling to adapt to a normal life. They've become militarized in their fight for freedom. Some have been traumatized by what they did and what they saw. When asked, on camera, whether he has nightmares, Abdul is dismissive, but later, walking across the base, he recounts in detail the horrors he saw. He may not have nightmares, but he relives the worst moments every day. “I often think about what I did and I ask myself whether it was right or wrong, but I feel it was right and I feel I was doing my duty.” he said.
UNICEF and partners are working with Libya's interim government to demilitarize the country's youth. As part of that process, leaders of 14 youth clubs under the Scouts in the East and Misrata have been trained and 20 adolescents are being trained in child protection and psychosocial support in their areas. They're also working to ensure that all children are able to return to school as soon as possible, the return to regular routines is a key part of the demilitarization and normalization process.
The war may be over, but its impact upon Libya's children will last long after the guns have been silenced.
* Name has been changed to protect his identity.