Across Africa, people living with albinism – a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes – have been subjected to some of the worst forms of discrimination and abuse, including death.
This abuse stems from long held stereotypes and a misguided belief that body organs of people with albinism can bring luck and wealth. In fact, some politicians, businessmen and wealthy individuals are said to spend millions of shillings on albino parts.
As a result, many albinos in different parts of Africa continue to die at the hands of merciless organ harvesters, who then sell the body parts to witchdoctors. Reports indicate that there is a thriving black market for albino body parts in Tanzania and neighboring countries.
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But what is more disheartening is the fact that most of these victims are either attacked or sold out by their friends and family members.
Other people believe that having sex with children who have albinism helps to cure HIV/AIDS. Consequently, many children with the skin condition have been raped and infected with the virus.
Additionally, some African communities see albinism as a bad omen and a curse. Therefore any child that is born with the condition is either killed or thrown away at birth.
It’s even more disappointing to know that this blatant abuse is happening on the watch of democratically elected governments. Although some African countries have tried to combat the menace through harsh penalties, the attacks are still happening.
Stop the Stigma
As a continent that has suffered all forms of discrimination and abuse at the hands of colonizers and slave masters, we shouldn’t be discriminating against members of our own society merely because of their pigmentation.
It is time we did away with the out-dated stereotypes and beliefs. Every African has a duty of preserving and ensuring full protection of people with albinism. As vulnerable members of the society, albinos deserve to live in dignity and to enjoy all the support given to people with special needs.
Governments, civil societies and all other stakeholders must educate the masses on the importance of respecting people with albinism through periodic public awareness campaigns, especially in the rural areas where ritual killings are rampant.
People need to know what causes albinism and the kind of support they should give to those suffering from the condition.
It is the responsibility of every single government to protect its citizenry, especially the most vulnerable. Therefore, African governments should make discrimination and abuse of people with albinism a serious crime and ensure perpetrators are dealt with in accordance with the law regardless of their status in the society.
Involvement of the general public in identifying and implementing community-oriented safety measures for people with albinism and other special groups is critical in preventing further attacks.
If African countries can have sophisticated national strategies for the endangered wildlife, certainly they can employ similar approaches in protecting people with albinism.