A 'resurgence' in attacks on people with albinism

Amnesty International say systematic failures have emboldened killers as attacks on people with albinism continue.


A 'resurgence' in attacks on people with albinism

Amnesty International say systematic failures have emboldened killers as attacks on people with albinism continue.

13 June 2017 Tuesday 11:43
A 'resurgence' in attacks on people with albinism

Since late 2014, at least 117 people with albinism have been attacked in Malawi. Children and adults have had their limbs hacked off with kitchen knives and machetes. Around 20 have been killed.

About nine people have been attacked so far this year, at least two fatally. 

Their attackers often believe that their bones possess magical powers and can be sold for large sums of money.

A recent Al Jazeera investigation found that a toxic mix of witchcraft and poverty - together with the inability of the courts to successfully prosecute many of the cases - is allowing the attacks to continue.

According to Amnesty International, few cases result in a conviction.

"Despite stronger legislation ... to tackle attacks against people with albinism, we are seeing an alarming resurgence of killings and attacks against this vulnerable group in 2017," Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's regional director for southern Africa, said in a statement on June 13.

"The authorities must take decisive measures to end these attacks once and for all."

Malawi's government insists that it is continuing to look for ways to safeguard the community, and Nicholas Dausi, the minister of information, told Al Jazeerathat his government has noticed a reduction in attacks on people with albinism.

In the latest incident in May, a nine-year-old Malawian boy, Mayeso Isaac, was abducted during a trip to Mozambique. Amnesty International said both the Malawian and Mozambican authorities have
an obligation to ensure a speedy and effective investigation into his disappearance. Dausi told Al Jazeera that the police were investigating the case.

Albinism is a genetically inherited condition that often results in a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. Between 7,000 and 10,000 Malawians have albinism.

Children with albinism are particularly vulnerable to attacks, forcing many parents to remove them from school, often at the cost of an education.

Over the past 10 years there has been an increase in attacks on people with albinism across southern and eastern Africa, driven by a belief that their organs, bones and body parts can be sold on the black market.

Margaret Chiku, left, says her two-year old son Ibra Phiro was taken from their home in southern Malawi in January 2015. He was never seen again.

Seventeen-year-old Alfred Chigalu was attacked in the middle of the night in November 2015 while sleeping at his aunt's home in eastern Malawi. Chigalu survived, but he rarely leaves his home now.

Albinism is a congenital disorder that results in a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. In sub-Saharan Africa, the condition affects between one in every 5,000 and one in every 15,000 people.

Amnesty International says the vast majority of cases involving crimes against people with albinism do not make it to court due to a lack of legal resources to pursue them.

Timothy Justine, 20, was sentenced to four years in prison for trespassing on a burial site and removing human tissue belonging to a deceased person with albinism. Justine says he is innocent but could not afford legal representation to fight his case.

Charles Nyasa, 24, says a witch doctor advised him to bring the placenta of a newborn child with albinism to improve his chances of becoming wealthy. He received a six-year jail sentence.

Traditional healers say they have been made scapegoats for a larger criminal network exploiting the vulnerabilities of the poor and marginalised in Malawi.

Ishmaeel Rashid, 38, says he spends much of his money on personal security so that he can continue with his business in Mangochi, Malawi.

Malawians with albinism are continuing to lobby their government to protect them.


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