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Ritual Attacks on People Living With Albinism Go Largely Uninvestigated

Around one in 1,000 people in some African ethnic groups are born with albinism, the medical condition which stops production of melanin in a person’s skin, hair or eyes. Africa has the highest incidence  in the world, and in some nations, especially Tanzania, people living with albinism are often abandoned by their parents, ostracized by society [...]

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Photo: Felix O

Around one in 1,000 people in some African ethnic groups are born with albinism, the medical condition which stops production of melanin in a person’s skin, hair or eyes. Africa has the highest incidence  in the world, and in some nations, especially Tanzania, people living with albinism are often abandoned by their parents, ostracized by society and even targeted for murder.

Since 2000, National Geographic reports, 72 people with the disease have been killed in Tanzania and are likely victims of a lucrative trade catering to voodoo practitioners who believe the limbs of albino people carry magical powers. NatGeo:

The false beliefs are thought to be especially strong in the Lake Zone, a populous area in Tanzania’s northwest that is a staging ground for huge fishing and mining industries.

Some miners from the region are known to use albino body parts as talismans, burying them where they’re drilling for gold, while some fishermen weave albino hair into their nets.

“The buyers of albino body parts are people who need wealth—they believe it’s an easy way to be rich,” says Al-Shaymaa J. Kwegyir, Tanzania’s first albino MP. “Men ill with HIV and AIDS have been known to abduct albino girls, in the belief that raping them might help cure their afflictions.”

In September, the United Nations compiled a report on albinism in East Africa, including detailed studies on ritual attacks, trade in organs, infanticide and discrimination against people with albinism. For example: 

On 11 February 2013, a 38-year-old woman with albinism was attacked with machetes by her husband and four other men while she was sleeping, and had her left arm chopped off. Her 8-year-old daughter witnessed the attack and saw her father coming out of the bedroom carrying the arm of her mother. The woman survived the attack.

The U.N. received reports about more than 200 such cases originating from 15 countries. Most likely, they write, many more attacks go unreported.

While activists and humanitarian groups fight against this discrimination, societal and political forces work against them. Some corrupt politicians order the killings or turn a blind eye to them, National Geographic writes. And most people refuse to provide information to the police surrounding these murders. A 2010 law stating that Tanzanian employers cannot discriminate against people with albinism is largely ignored, and a government task force charged with investigating the multitude of problems hasn’t produced many results. Just five of the confirmed killings of albinos have resulted in prosecutions, the U.N. reports, and “very little information was available as to the legal status of the cases of ritual attacks.” 

More from Smithsonian.com:

People Discriminate Against Cats Based on Color, Too
The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum 

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