This belief has driven thousands of people with albinism into hiding. They fear losing their lives and limbs to unscrupulous dealers.
People with albinism lack melanin, a pigment which gives eyes, hair and skin their color. They’re vulnerable to contracting skin cancer and they endure insults, social discrimination and segregation. Most disturbing of all, ritualists hunt them for their body parts which are sources of treatments in witchcraft.
It’s believed that charms made with the body parts of people with albinism, especially hair, genitals, limbs, breasts, the tongue and blood make strong magic potions which sell for a high price. The fingers of albinos are worn on necklaces as amulets to ward off danger, or evil. In Tanzania, a leg, or an arm can fetch between 1,000 and 3,000 US dollars, which is big money in a country where the annual average income is only 800 US dollars.
Tanzania has the highest recorded number of albino murders, with Kenya, Burundi and Congo not far behind. The killings are known to peak during election time as demand for magical potions increases by politicians seeking election, or re-election.
Many people with albinism in these countries have left their rural homes and moved to urban areas, where they feel safer. Those who have survived are in trauma. Some families have been attacked with guns and grenades and their body parts removed. Even the dead can’t rest in peace as organ hunters desecrate and rob their graves.
The trade in albino organs has also led to human trafficking across east African countries. Both the slaughter and the trafficking of people with albinism has been condemned internationally. Albinism organizations and other civil society groups are being urged to develop guidelines and mechanisms to protect albinos’ rights.
Helping survivors of child trafficking to start a new life is a daunting task, as a courageous activist in Kenya, Sister Jane Kimathi, knows only too well. She’s been involved with an NGO which runs a rescue centre in Mombasa. She’s written a report on the services which the center provides for children who have been trafficked and exploited.
The center rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates survivors. It desperately needs support. More of these centers are needed throughout east Africa in hotspots where people with albinism are most threatened and where security needs to be tightened.
Sister Kimathi describes the trafficking of people with albinism as “an affront to the sanctity and dignity of the human body.” She points out that children are special in every nation. But, in Africa, children within the albinism community deal with a society which is largely silent about their suffering.