Extinction threat for people with albinism in Malawi as ritual murders rise

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By Euronews
Extinction threat for people with albinism in Malawi as ritual murders rise

People with albinism in Malawi are being attacked, abducted and killed to such an extent that they face extinction in the African country.

Stealing a cow may attract a higher penalty than attacks against persons with albinism

The dire warning comes from the United Nations Independent Expert on the rights of people with albinism, following an official visit there.

Ikponwosa Ero points out in her report that even in death those targeted “do not rest in peace as their remains are robbed from graveyards”.

She states: “These atrocities occur due to the misbelief that their body parts can grant benefits such as wealth and good luck when used in witchcraft. The body parts allegedly sell for high prices, on the black market.”

And she says that women and children are disproportionately targeted.

What is albinism?

  • Albinism is a rare, congenital disorder affecting about one in 20,000 people worldwide who lack pigment (melanin) in their skin, hair and eyes.
  • The condition is found in both genders, regardless of ethnicity and across the world.
  • It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The lack of pigment makes suffererers vulnerable to the sun and bright light. Almost all are visually impaired and are liable to develop skin cancer.
  • There is no cure for the absence of melanin.
  • The term “person with albinism” is preferred to “albino”, which is frequently used in a derogatory way.

What is the superstition?

As a UN report from 2013 explains: “In some communities, erroneous beliefs and myths, heavily influenced by superstition, put the security and lives of persons with albinism at constant risk. These beliefs and myths are centuries old and are present in cultural attitudes and practices around the world.”

The report says: “There are beliefs according to which the body parts of persons with albinism possess magical powers capable of bringing riches and power if used in potions produced by local witchdoctors.”

It goes on to say: “Some even believe that the witchcraft ritual is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, so body parts are often cut from live victims, especially children. The use of children is likely linked to the pursuit of innocence which, it is believed, enhances the potency of the witchcraft ritual.”

What are authorities doing?

Not enough in Malawi, according to experts.

The UN Independent Expert on the rights of people with albinism Ikponwosa Ero says: “Court sentences as handed down to convicted criminals do not always reflect the gravity of the crime. As pointed out by various stakeholders during my visit, stealing a cow may attract a higher penalty than attacks against persons with albinism.”

Such attacks, she says, continue to rise.

According to the UK’s ‘Independent’ newspaper in March, two people with albinism have been murdered in Malawi so far in 2016 and a further five have been abducted.

This comes despite reports of an order for police to ‘shoot to kill’ to protect those targeted.

Further horrors have been documented since.

Amnesty International reports that: “Two-year-old Whitney was abducted from her bed while she was sleeping in April. Baby Whitney’s skull, teeth and clothes were later discovered in a neighbouring village.”

Amnesty says it is calling on the president of Malawi to:

  • Protect people with albinism from attacks.
  • Give the police force resources to adequately investigate crimes related to albinism.
  • Bring the perpetrators of albinism-related crimes to justice.
  • Tackle the harmful superstitious beliefs perpetuating attacks on people with albinism.