Hands off people with albinism in Malawi

Since 2014, Malawi has reported more than 50 cases of abduction, killing and digging of graves of people with albinism. So far, victims of this barbaric acts have been murdered and parts of their body mutilated.

Albino grave tampered with

Albino grave tampered with

The Malawi Government has since condemned the killing of people with albinism. Local civil society organisations have conducted campaigns to raise awareness about the evils of this practice. The CSOs and NGOs have taken steps to remind people of the basic principles of humanity.

The Amnesty International has also joined the movement to condemn the abduction and killing of people with albinism. They have further issued a petition ‘MALAWI, STOP RITUAL MURDERS OF PEOPLE WITH ALBINISM’ calling the Malawi government to: Protect people with albinism from attacks. Give the police force resources to investigate adequately crimes related to albinism. Bring the perpetrators of albinism-related crimes to justice. Tackle the harmful superstitious beliefs perpetrating attacks on people with albinism.

It is believed that the abductions, killing and digging of graves of individuals with albinism, is linked with the ritual practices. According to the BBC, in Tanzania, the killing of people with albinism is driven by the belief that the body parts of people with albinism bring wealth and Goodluck. Since then 200 witchdoctors were arrested in Tanzania in connection with abduction and killing of people with albinism.

Despite the condemnation, international calls and the arrest of the perpetrators the practice still continues. The continuation is a sign that they are still some gaps that have to be addressed.

To begin with, in 2015 one of the people who was arrested in connection with the abduction and murder of an individual with albinism. The person was fined about MK20,000($30). However, according to the Red Cross, the body parts of people with albinism are sold between 6-50million kwacha($10-50,000). A penalty of MK20,000($30) is very unlike going to stop someone who is pocketing over 6 million kwacha ($10,000) per transaction.

The fact that the buyer can pay more than 6 million Kwacha demonstrates that the buyers are not poor people.

Secondly, the approach taken does not reflect the players involved in this practice. The system that fuels the killing and abduction of people with albinism seems to be organised. Clearly, they are the seller, middlemen(vendors), and the ultimate buyers of the body part of people with albinism. The reports indicate that final customers are within and outside of Malawi. This begs the question, how are they able to smuggle body parts?

Thirdly, in 2008 to 2015 cases of abduction and killing of people with albinism, were very popular in Tanzania. The government in Tanzania took all the measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people with albinism. As the cases are reducing in Tanzania, the cases seem to be picking up in Malawi. Is it a coincidence?

To eliminate the killing, abduction, and digging of graves of people with albinism, they have to be some issues that have to address.

Arresting and trial of the suspects involved is not enough. This approach addresses the supply side of the equation. It does address the demand side. The cross-border nature of the practice calls for collaboration between countries to address this practice. It might require engaging Interpol, and the local police to trace the system to capture the culprits.  To catch the sellers, middlemen and buyers.It might require coordination and collaboration.

Most of all let us remember that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and that no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

  • Chimwemwe Manyozo is Malawian Student at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK.
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1 thought on “Hands off people with albinism in Malawi”

  1. Thitherward 'wendo says:

    I wonder why anybody would associate albinism with good luck. Even when they are fortunate enough to be born where human body parts are not considered to be opportunities for enrichment, they still face the threat of skin cancer and blindness.

    I knew one who managed to overcome all the prejudice, discouragement, neglect, and abuse that his family and community could inflict on him. He built up a little empire of village groceries and butcheries and supported his extended family with the profits. His name was Pitani. When he died young of cancer, his family invested heavily in alcohol, and pissed away the business.

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