You see them in the twilight on the roads of northern Uganda, barefoot children, thousands of them. They leave their rural villages before nightfall and hike to larger cities, such as Gulu, Kitgum, and Lira. Once there, they disperse to buildings, bus stations, parks, and courtyards. When the sun comes up, you see them again on the roads, returning home. Why this unusual routine?
SOME people call them night commuters. But these youngsters are not going to work on the night shift. They leave home at dusk because when darkness falls over the bush, home is a dangerous place.
For almost two decades, guerrilla forces have been invading rural settlements and kidnapping children. Each year they steal hundreds of boys and girls from their homes and then disappear into the dense jungle. The children are snatched mainly at night and provide the rebels with a pool of young soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. If the entrapped children do not cooperate, their captors may cut off their nose or lips. Those caught trying to escape face a death too horrible to describe.
There are other young victims of terrorism. The maimed teenagers in Sierra Leone were tots when machete-swinging men chopped off their hands and feet. Boys and girls in Afghanistan play with mines shaped like butterflies and lose fingers and eyes when those colorful “toys” explode.
Some young people affected by terrorism meet with a different fate. For example, in a 1995 terrorist attack on Oklahoma City, U.S.A., among the 168 people killed were 19 children, some of them in diapers. Like a blast of wind on flickering candles, the bomb instantly ended those tiny lives. The terrorist act stole their right to be children, to play and laugh and cuddle in the arms of their mothers and fathers.
These events are recent, but terrorist violence has plagued mankind for centuries, as we will see.