In the southern African nation of Malawi, albinos are being hunted and murdered for their limbs.
Back in February, a violent struggle led Edna Cedrick’s 9-year-old albino son to be snatched from her arms. The boy is now dead after a recent wave of abductions and killings that target the victims’ body parts, sold and used in potions made by witch doctors who claim to bring good luck and prosperity.
Cedrick told the Associated Press their ordeal last month while holding the murdered boy’s surviving twin brother, also affected with albinism. On that fateful night, people kicked down their door, sliced the mosquito net and grabbed one of the twins. Her husband was away.
“I held on to him by holding his waist, at the same time shielding the other with my back,” recounted the 26-year-old mother in a CBS News report.
On the day of the interview, another fatal attack happened, this time on a 38-year-old albino father Fletcher Masina, whose limbs were missing when his body was recovered.
Activists in Malawi have taken to the streets to protest and call for strict penalties for the perpetrators. Dubbing the killings disgusting, President Peter Mutharika has formed a committee to focus on the issue.
The macabre trade is also believed to stem from the belief that albino people’s bones contain gold. Sex with an albino too is falsely thought to miraculously cure HIV.
Amnesty International considers April as the bloodiest month for the attacks, with four persons murdered including a child under age 2. The child’s father and four others have been arrested. Family members are also often part of the widespread discrimination against people with albinism.
Malawi has recorded 18 albino murders and abduction of five others in the last 19 months, but the human rights group fears higher actual data due to unreported cases in rural locations. At least 69 crimes in total have been documented since November 2014.
“The unprecedented wave of brutal attacks against people with albinism has created a climate of terror for this vulnerable group and their families,” said the group’s director for southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, in a statement.
The surge of killings is also thought to stem from mass unemployment as well as drought, according to an Amnesty report.
Violence against albinos could be striking not just Malawi but also Tanzania and Burundi, warned the United Nations last year.
A congenital condition marked by lack of pigmentation in skin, hair and eyes, albinism affects up to one out of 15,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, along with one out of 20,000 in North America in Europe.
Photo: C. Heitz | Flickr