WHAT IS ALBINISM?
Albinism is a rare group of genetic disorder that causes the skin, hair, or even eyes to have little or no colour. The condition is equally associated with vision problems. The bodies of persons suffering from albinism are not able to make a normal amount of melanin (the chemical that is responsible for eye, skin, and hair colour). Albinism can affect people of all races, and there are different kinds of albinism. It affects approximately one in twenty thousand people.
Statistics indicate that fifty percent of people with Albinism in Tanzania have a known relative suffering from the same condition. Many believe it is a punishment from God or bad luck, and that their “disease” could be contagious, which is often the view of even members of the medical and professional community. People suffering from albinism are usually considered as second class citizens in most parts of the world today. They face a lot of stigmatisation, segregation and in some societies they are even murdered and used for rituals because they believe they serve as goodluck charms. In east Africa for example, these rather vulnerable group of persons are being used for rituals, especially during election periods, because politicians think they will serve as their lucky charms in getting into office. In other societies they are being treated as curses.
ORIGINS OF BELIEFS AND SUPERSTITION LEADING TO PERSECUTION OF PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM
African rituals and spiritual beliefs about albinism have resulted in the brutal murder and attacks on innocent men, women and especially children. These ideas date way back, but in recent years, witch doctors have been imparting misconceived ideas about the promise of wealth, success and power when some albino body parts or components are used in a potion as part of witchcraft practices. This has drawn public attention nationally and internationally as these crimes have been reported as crimes against human rights. Maltreatment of people with albinism is based on the belief that certain body parts of people with the condition can transmit magical powers. This has resulted in people with albinism being oppressed, killed and mutilated, and graves of albinos dug up and defiled.
Even though people with albinism are thought to bring good fortune, on the other hand, they have also been rejected and even killed for exactly the opposite reason. In some societies, they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck.
STATISTICS OF PERSECUTION OF PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM
A recent report by the Canadian charity Under the Same Sun released on November 5, 2018 titled ‘Reported Attacks of Persons with Albinism’ reveals that a total of 572 persons with albinism have been killed and attacked across 29 countries. Amongst the 572 cases, there were 206 killings and 366 attacks. The attacks comprised of mutilation, violence, violation of graves, and cases of asylum-seeking. According to the report, more of the cases were reported in Malawi. In 2017, 102 cases were reported by the UN Independent Expert on albinism in the report of her official visit to Malawi. However, the report notes that actual number of attacks & killings of people with albinism are likely much higher than indicated above, since many are never reported or documented.
MEASURES TAKEN TO CURB PERSECUTION OF PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM
In 2015, Tanzania passed tougher steps against violence against albinos. In January 2015, the government instituted a nationwide ban on witchdoctors, in a move to protect albinos. Malawi has equally taken one or two steps to curb the attacks and killings of people with albinism. As of 2018, there were speculations that President Peter Mutharika was making moves toward implementing the death penalty to convicted murderers of Albino people as a way to significantly reduce the attacks being committed. The president believes this will tighten judicial control and work to wipe out the hate crimes committed against Albinos.
AFRIC Editorial Article.