Albino people in Malawi are at risk of “‘systematic extinction’ if they continue to be murdered so their limbs can be used in witchcraft,” writes the Daily Mail. The body parts of albinos are used in rituals and concoctions by some witch doctors and often limbs are hacked off while the person is still alive. In Tanzania, which is just north of Malawi, “a full set of albino body parts can sell for more than £50,000 [$73,000].”
The terrible trade in human body parts has been highlighted by Ikponwosa Ero, the UN’s “independent expert on human rights and albinism.” There are “an estimated 10,000 albinos in Malawi” and at least “65 cases of violence against people with albinism, including killings and dismemberment, have been recorded by police…since late 2014.”
It is believed that the reported attacks represent a tiny fraction of the actual number of crimes committed against albino people. Ero has spoken out following a “12-day assessment of the treatment of albinos” in Malawi, which followed the jailing of “two men for 17 years after they murdered a 21-year-old albino woman.”
The casual prejudice against albino people is a fact of everyday life in Malawi. Ero “said she was ‘particularly alarmed’ by reports that people with albinism are being called ‘money’ [by] passers-by on the street.”
“Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and the sale of body parts of persons with albinism is believed to be very lucrative. It is thought that albinos can increase wealth, make businesses prosper or facilitate employment. Even in death, they do not rest in peace as their remains are robbed from graveyards.”
Although albinism in varying degrees affects about one in every 20,000 people worldwide, it is “more common in sub-Saharan Africa.” It is particularly prevalent in Tanzania, where the number of albino people can be as high as “one in 1,500,” notes CNN. Ero says that there needs to be stricter laws for the protection of albinos, as well as action from the communities and the governments in the countries involved.
“‘Persons with albinism, and parents of children with albinism, constantly live in fear of attack. Many do not sleep peacefully and have deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum.’”
However, for the protection of albino people to work, there needs to be a significant change in the overall attitude to witch doctors and “magic” medicine, as well as tougher prison sentences. Until the public at large is willing to dismiss the beliefs that encourage the horrific persecution of albino people, Ero recognizes that not much will change.
“‘It is clear that an urgent and coordinated response from the government, civil society and development partners working in strong partnership with each other is required.’”
Ero, who is herself an albino, criticizes the low regard in which crimes against albinos are held. Albinos are often thought of as less than human, therefore, crimes against them carry little punishment.
“As pointed out by various stakeholders during my visit, stealing a cow may attract a higher penalty.”
However, there is a movement in Malawi itself to tackle the horrific targeting of albino people, particularly children. Indeed, Malawi24 reports that “social commentators” in Malawi are demanding that the authorities step in. Stanley Kenani posted on Facebook about the worsening persecution.
“The killing of people with albinism in Malawi has taken a turn for the worse. In the most recent case, somebody offered to buy eight bones of a person with albinism for K1.1 billion ($1.5 million)….We need a death sentence for these murderers.”
It might be that a generational change is needed before the ideas that albino people are fodder for magical practices disappears from the parts of Africa where such beliefs persist. A tough line on crimes against albinos, while simultaneously working to change peoples’ minds, may be the only way forward.
[Photo by Matt Rourke/AP Images]