The fight against cruelty to albinos should also be taken to the doorsteps of traditional healers and witchdoctors whose demand and use of albino organs and body parts hugely account for the crime against them
There was this shocking story of a Tanzanian man whose residence was invaded by four hefty men armed with cutlasses. Their mission: to harvest his body parts. As he ate dinner with his wife in front of their home, the invaders grabbed him, pinned him to the ground and chopped off his limbs and living him to bleed to death.
The victim was an albino. It was not a lone incident; there have been growing cases of brutal attacks and killings of albinos in the East African country said to have the largest population of albinos in the world.
The belief propagated by witchdoctors that their body parts bring good luck or instant wealth has helped to fuel this obnoxious trade in albino body parts in Tanzania such that even family members get involved in this cruelty to albinos just for financial gains.
Unscrupulous Tanzanians who desire political power, fame, wealth or luck are willing to pay as much as $4,000 for the limb of an albino or $75,000 for a whole body which are then delivered to witchdoctors who use them to prepare charms and potions. Unfortunately, the Tanzanian government has not been able to put an end to these macabre killing and maiming of albinos who constitute a significant percentage of the population.
About 4,000 albinos are said to be officially registered in the country, but the Albino Foundation of Tanzania insists the actual number could be as high as 180,000 of the 40 million population.
Tanzania is not the only country where people with albinism are endangered. Even in the United States said to have an albino population of about 18,000, these vulnerable group of people face ignorance and discrimination because of their unusual colouring. In Zimbabwe, albinos are victims of rape because of the belief that having sexual intercourse with a person with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS. The practice of persecution, discrimination and killing of albinos is also rampant in Burundi, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and many other African countries where even their graves are desecrated based on the belief that using certain parts of their bodies could transmit magical powers. The trafficking of albinos across borders has also become a lucrative business.
In some societies where they are not killed for rituals, they are ostracized by even their family members because of the belief that they are evil, cursed or harbingers of bad luck. The case is not different in Nigeria where the albino population has been put at six million by the Albino Foundation of Nigeria. The increasing cases of missing albinos in Nigeria has been linked to witchdoctors and spiritualists who crave for their body organs to make love, luck or money rituals. Jake Epelle, founder and chief executive officer of the foundation, has confirmed that many members of the foundation have been declared missing across the country.
Apart from all these, people with albinism also suffer discrimination on account of their health condition. This cruelty against albinos must stop. This vulnerable group of people should not continue to suffer human rights abuses on account of their skin colour.
We are therefore calling for a world alliance in the fight against all forms of stereotypes. Governments all over the world especially in Africa, advocacy groups and good spirited people worldwide should stand up against this evil by helping to dispel the myths that fuel atrocities against albinos and remove the social stigma associated with albinism.
There should be strict laws to protect albinos and other vulnerable groups and also sanction those who commit crime against them. The fight against cruelty to albinos should also be taken to the doorsteps of traditional healers and witchdoctors whose demand and use of albino organs and body parts hugely account for the crime against them. There is also the need to educate the general public about albinism.
Traditional myths and superstitions abound to justify the evil actions taken against people living with albinism. But nothing can be farther from the truth. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), albinism is a genetically inherited disorder resulting from lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes of those affected. It is a rare genetic condition that occur in people of all race and gender.
Albinos are also susceptible to specific health conditions requiring higher levels of care and attention which are unavailable in the conventional health care institutions of most African countries. Indiscriminate exposure of albinos to the sun can lead to freckled skin and sun burns which could develop into cancer. Besides, they suffer vision impairment which reduces their productivity.
But it has been proven that people living with albinism can, with the support of society, live a healthy, productive and fulfilled life. Enough of paying lip service to the fight against discrimination and human rights abuses of people living with albinism and other physically challenged people.
While we advocate for the recognition and respect of the rights and socioeconomic inclusion of people living with albinism, we urge governments to institute programmes to improve their health and social wellbeing and also empower them to find their rightful place in society.
Above all, we call on albinos not to see themselves as sub-humans. They should strive to achieve success in their chosen endeavours. By so doing, they too can help change the negative mind-sets and socio-cultural stereotypes about albinism.