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African albinos hunted for their ‘magical powers’

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Emma Caddow
WVoN co-editor

Growing numbers of albino Africans are being killed for their ‘magical powers’.

Albinism is a genetic condition that causes a lack of pigment, affecting the eyes and usually the skin.

In parts of East Africa, shamans or ‘witch doctors’ believe that albinos’ body parts can bring great wealth or luck.

Three years ago in Tanzania, a group of men broke into Mariamu Staford’s home.

“In the middle of the night,” she said, “a group of men stormed in and said: ‘We are going to cut your arm off, and if you scream we’ll cut the other arm off’.

‘And then they started to chop my right arm off. And because I was screaming, they also started to do the same with the other.”

Her unborn baby died from the trauma.

Her arms would be used to create a witch doctor’s ‘potion’, to be sold on the black market to the highest bidder.

One albino limb can fetch anything between $500 to $2,000. Tanzania’s per capita income is $442 a year.

Since 2007, 64 people with albinism have been murdered  in Tanzania for their body parts.

Fourteen others have been mutilated, including a 13-year-old girl whose right arm was severed as she lay sleeping next to her mother.

The US government published a resolution in 2010 “recognizing the plight of people with albinism in East Africa [most notably Tanzania] and condemning their murder and mutilation”.

The resolution included a number of stories of murder or mutilation, including that  of Vumilia Makoye, a 17-year-old woman with albinism from Kenya, who was killed by two men in her home who sawed off her legs in May 2008.

Two mothers of children with albinism were attacked by gangs who were searching for the children in Eastern Tanzania in November 2008.

“I was always hearing these tales, people here believe that albinos do not die, they disappear so I was always wondering how I am going to disappear,” Staford said.

The resolution accuses government officials in rural areas of East Africa of conspiring with the witch doctors to maim or murder Africans with albinism.

Hundreds of albino women and children fear for their lives in rural East Africa, whilst simultaneously being shunned by society.

This minority does not have access to any information about protecting themselves from excess sunlight, and most have no access to medical treatment for skin cancer.

The average albino in East Africa dies of skin cancer before they are 30.

You can learn more through the organisation, Under The Same Sun, which offers educational grants about disability and poverty, as well as educating, advocating and raise awareness about albinism in Tanzania.

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