A UN expert Monday condemned the abuse of young albinos in government care centres in Tanzania, a country where many are often killed and their body parts sold as lucky charms.
At least 74 people living with albinism have been murdered Tanzania since 2000. Here albino body parts sell for around $600, with an entire corpse fetching $75,000.
After a spike in killings in 2009, the government placed youngsters in children’s homes in a desperate effort to defend them, Alicia Londono, of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters.
“It was a protective measure, and welcome at the beginning,” said Londono, who has just returned from an inspection tour in Tanzania. “But the conditions are appalling. They are overcrowded, hygiene conditions are very poor,” she said.
Out of Tanzania’s 23 children’s homes, 13 host albino youngsters, according to UN figures. Londono said that all too often the children were forcibly removed from their families, and lose all contact with them.
“They are really a neglected population, they are not considered in many places as human beings,” she explained.
But discrimination and persecution of people with albinism is not a problem isolated to Tanzania.
In Zimbabwe people living with albinism are completely ostracised from society – the 14-17,000 individuals are treated like outcasts as a result of traditional beliefs that depict people with albinism as a curse from God or a sign that the ancestors are unhappy. These superstitions have fuelled discrimination for generations and have resulted in the individuals being denied services as nobody wants to touch or interact with them.
Zimbabwe, DRC HIV/AIDS ‘cure’
That is until they have HIV. In Zimbabwe some men believe that sex with a woman with albinism cures the virus. The same goes for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – women with albinism are increasingly exposed to HIV in the country because men have sex with them to “cure” themselves.
In Burundi individuals with albinism suffer from alienation, unemployment, and like Tanzania, they are also killed for their body parts. The belief there is that their limbs bring good luck and ritual killings are carried out by traditional doctors who will them use body parts as amulets - this is a widespread issue on the continent. In Swaziland people suffering from albinism even made an appeal for protection ahead of elections fearing that their body parts would be harvested by candidates seeking good luck.
There are an estimated six million people living with albinism in Nigeria and growing fears over increasing disappearances linked to traditional practices. But the government is trying to do something about it. In 2013 President Goodluck Jonathan launched the “Albino Foundation M-Empower Project” and called for support for persons living with albinism. He also inaugurated the National Committee on Albinism with the determination to put an end to inequality hindering the progress and well-being of albinos.
Similarly in Rwanda this year the government launched a protection campaign for individuals with albinism. The peace initiative called “White in Black” is meant to raise awareness on their rights. The Rwandan government has worked hard to protect people with albinism and integrate them in education through an inclusive education program though in some schools, albino students still face some problems of being rejected or beaten by their peers.
Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes.