Albinos In Malawi Are On The Verge Of Total Extinction

Many Africans living with albinism face discrimination and persecution from their communities. In the worst cases, they are hunted and murdered for their body parts – which are sold to witch doctors. Some people believe that albinos hold magical properties. Their body parts can be worth thousands of dollars on the black market. The situation has become so dire in Malawi that the United Nations warned that people with albinism face total extinction in the country.   

A crisis

Ikponwosa Ero, the UN Independent Expert specialized on albinos rights, described the state of albinos in Malawi as “an emergency, a crisis disturbing in its proportions.” Since late 2014, there have been at least 65 cases of violence against albinos reported to police.  

“Given the relatively small population size of people with albinism in Malawi – reported to be a little less than 10,000 – attacks against a few of them constitutes a danger to all of them,” Ero explained.  

She said that at this rate, people with albinism in the country are an endangered group of people at risk of systemic extinction.  

Living in fear

Albinos are constantly under fear of attack.

“Many do not sleep peacefully and have deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum,” Ero said.   

Some do not even dare to leave their homes. Children with albinism often stop attending school. They can be at risk of an attack even within their own homes and among their own families. Earlier this year, an 11-year-old girl in Malawi was kidnapped by her own uncle when he discovered that her body parts were worth $6,500.  

“The frequent involvement of close relatives in cases of attacks is highly disturbing, and persons with albinism are unable to trust even those who are supposed to care for and protect them. Consequently, persons with albinism in the current context of attacks are locked in a spiral of fear and poverty,” Ero stated.

Attackers often get off easily

The attacks against albinos can be extremely violent. According to a 2013 report from the U.N. Human Rights Council, some people believe that the witchcraft is even more powerful if the victim screams as their body parts are severed. Yet, the punishments for the crime are rather lax. Ero, who is an albino herself, said:

“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.”

 When suspected attackers are able to easily return to their communities, people with albinism are living in even more fear.

Addressing the problem

Ero made several recommendations to improve the situation in Malawi, including specialized training for police, prosecutors and magistrates, cooperation between the police and the Department of Public Prosecutions, and adequate resources for the newly appointed special prosecutor. Another recommendation is for people in Malawi to acknowledge the problem in society. While Malawians are shocked by the recent increase in attacks against albinos, Ero claimed that there is a long history of violence against the group in the country:

“Addressing the root causes of attacks, in particular why they are happening, is indispensable to eradicating them.”

SEE ALSO: Albinos In Africa Are Beeing Persecuted For The Most Ridiculous Reasons.

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