I've covered horror stories across the African continent, and every time, I tell myself I've seen it all. But nothing could have prepared me for the scenes I witnessed in the tiny dusty town of Gulu in northern Uganda.
It is in this region that a rebel force -- the Lord's Resistance Army, which claims to base its principles on the Ten Commandments -- has waged a protracted 20-year war against the Ugandan government. The army is led by Joseph Kony, a 43-year-old so-called "Disciple," who is as elusive as he is mysterious. His modus operandi is to kidnap children from villages at night and indoctrinate them into his group. Reports from victims suggest he physically and mentally abuses them into submission. The United Nations says more than 30,000 children have been kidnapped in the last 10 years alone.
In a bid to escape danger over the past three years, every young child in every village surrounding Gulu makes a nightly trek from their village homes to the relative comfort of the town. The locals call them the "night commuters."
They're given shelter at several locations in Gulu -- a canvas roof; a cold, hard floor; and if they're lucky, a blanket. No food, no water, no showers are available. But at least they get to become kids again, knowing Joseph Kony would not attack the well-fortified town. In the morning, they get up and proceed to make the long commute back home, just lucky to be alive.
Those who are kidnapped by Kony's army live a life of horror. While reporting this story, we met Alice, a 19-year-old girl who recently managed to escape after eight years in captivity. She told me blood chilling stories of events no child deserves to witness. She spoke of how the group she was in was made to kill a child who tried to escape by biting him to death, of how she was made to cut up and cook the body of a village chief killed by the rebels and forced to eat the meat from his body, and of how she was raped and eventually had a child from the man who defiled her. She showed us the physical scars of her time as a child soldier -- bullet holes on her leg and shrapnel wounds on her chest.
The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant of arrest for Joseph Kony. Nonetheless, he's able to operate with relative impunity throughout the northern part of Uganda. As long as he's alive and leading his ragtag group of rebels, no child in northern Uganda will ever be safe.