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Malawi’s albinos at risk

D 25 août 2016     H 05:25     A     C 0 messages

Albinism is a genetic condition that leads to little or no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. In the United States, about one in 20,000 people have some type of albinism. But in countries such as Tanzania, the number can be as high as one in 1,500.

Malawi’s albinos are at risk of "total extinction" amid escalating attacks against them for their body parts, the United Nations warned. The southern African nation has about 10,000 albinos, according to the U.N.

In some African countries, albinos’ body parts are believed to bring wealth and good luck. As a result, attackers chop off their limbs and pluck out organs, and sell them to witchdoctors. Even after albinos are killed, some attackers go a step further and steal their remains from graveyards, said Ikponwosa Ero, the United Nations’ expert on albinism. "Persons with albinism, and parents of children with albinism, constantly live in fear of attack," she said. "Many do not sleep peacefully and have deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum."

Police in Malawi have recorded 65 cases of albino abductions since late 2014. About 20 people living with albinism have been killed so far, the latest case being that of a girl whose uncle played a role in facilitating her abduction and eventual killing. A court in Malawi’s rural district of Dowa on Thursday sentenced the uncle (Gerald Phiri) and his accomplice to 17 years imprisonment for aiding in the abduction of the 21-year-old Eneless Nkhata, who was later found murdered. The sentence is a landmark as it is the most severe delivered so far in cases relating to albino abductions and killings that are haunting Malawi. The stiff sentence comes after Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) protested a four-year jail term given by another court recently to two men who attempted to abduct and murder a 4-year-old child with albinism.

Ero said the fight should go beyond stiff punishments, as "addressing the root causes of attacks, in particular why they are happening, is indispensable to eradicating them. It is worrying to note that witchcraft beliefs and practices are widespread in Malawi, although often a taboo topic.”

Malawi Information Minister Patricia Kaliati has lambasted some witchdoctors for perpetrating the killings. "Some witchdoctors are fuelling the atrocities. We will take the battle against the abductions and the killings to their doorstep, even if it means stopping some of them from practising their trade. That is our serious warning," she said.

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