Agness Jonathan fears for her children.
Every day, her young ones risk death or dismemberment because they are albinos — and albino body parts are used in witchcraft rituals in Malawi, where she lives. Albinism is a genetic condition that results in the absence of pigment in the skin, eyes, and hair. In some African countries, albino body parts are believed to bring wealth, good luck, and even to cure disease. For albinos living in Malawi, simple things like going to school or to a soccer game quite literally mean risking life and limb.
UN Independent expert Ikponwosa Ero warns that the atrocities faced by albinos in Malawi make them an endangered group facing extinction. There are about 10,000 people with albinism in Malawi. This is a small number, to be sure — and attacks upon them have risen sharply in the last few years.
On May 23rd, Fletcher Masina became at least the 18th person with albinism to be murdered in Malawi since the end of 2014. This number does not include others who have disappeared and have probably also been killed. Overall, the U.N. has recorded 65 cases of attacks during that time.
Agness’ youngest daughter, Chakuputsa, would have been among that number had local villagers not thwarted a kidnapping attempt. Chakuputsa was grabbed by three men while her mother was working in the fields. Villagers chased the men until they dropped the child in some nearby bushes. One of the men was a relative, someone Agness thought of like a brother. Unfortunately, this is commonly the case. Some people are swayed by promises of large sums of money for procuring albino body parts.
Superstition and greed fuel the illegal trade in albino slaughter and dismemberment. In 2015, Malawi President Peter Mutharika announced a plan to protect albinos in the country. While Ero welcomes the Government’s Response Plan of 2015, she claims that lack of resources has delayed implementation. Further, she claims, “Court sentences as handed down to convicted criminals do not always reflect the gravity of the crime.” It was pointed out to her that “stealing a cow may attract a higher penalty.” Ero recommends additional training for police, prosecutors, and magistrates regarding these cases. She also wants to address the root causes of these attacks: the belief in witchcraft, which is often a taboo topic.
Amnesty International is also working to ensure the safety of albinos in Malawi. You can sign their petition here .