Saturday, February 28, 2015

Away with superstition

A string of murders that began in 2000 has now left more than 72 albinos in Tanzania dead. These killings are believed to be motivated by the lucrative trade in albino body parts, which some Africans believe possess magical powers.

Tanzania has now been listed by the United Nations as the African nation where albinos are targeted for murder the most. According to long-standing traditions in the country, albinos are believed to be ghosts who are cursed, but whose body parts can ward off bad luck, and bring the owner wealth and success. In response to these killings, in January 2015 Tanzania banned witch doctors.

In East Africa, one child in 3,000 is born albino which rises to one in every 1,400 Tanzanians, compared to one in 20,000 in the United States.  In Tanzania, albino advocacy groups estimate the number of albinos to be somewhere above 100,000 in a population of nearly 50 million people. 

A one-year-old albino boy, abducted from his home in northwestern Tanzania over the weekend, was found murdered on Tuesday with his "arms and legs hacked off," according to the local police chief. This gruesome discovery shows that despite new laws banning the witch doctors who prey upon them, people with albinism are still vulnerable in the East African nation.

In Tanzania the body parts of albinos are prized by witch doctors and their superstitious followers as they are said to bring wealth and luck when used in charms. A complete set of body parts can be sold for as much as $75,000, according to the Red Cross.

This victim, Yohana Bahati, was kidnapped from his family home in the Geita region by an armed gang. Police said his mother, Esther, was struck with a machete as she tried to protect him. "Unfortunately this family resides in a protected forest area," Joseph Konyo, the regional police commander, told Reuters. "It was extremely difficult for the police to immediately arrest the suspected robbers." Two other albino children who were in the house were not taken.

As albino body parts have become more valuable, family members have been tempted to sell their own albino family members to witch doctors for money. "I have found many parents who have been convicted for this," said Josephat Torner, an activist fighting for the rights and safety of albinos in his country. "They sold their children to the killers." Only two months ago, a 4-year-old girl, Pendo Emmanuelle Nundi, was snatched from her home in Mwanza, also in northwestern Tanzania. Fifteen people were initially arrested in connection with her disappearance, including the girl's father.

In August 2012, a report on the risks to albino children in Tanzania was published by Under The Same Sun, an NGO that focuses on the plight of people with albinism. "Myths include the belief that people with albinism never die — they simply vanish," the report stated, adding that many believe, "they are not human, but ghosts, apes, or other sub-human creatures." These superstitions mean that "infanticide and physical attacks causing death and bodily harm are common place in the region," according to the report.

"We have identified that witch doctors are the ones who ask people to bring albino body parts to create magical charms which they claim can get them rich," said Tanzania's Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe when the law was passed. "We will leave no stone unturned until we end these evil acts."

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...