Extreme discrimination causes more albino deaths

WNN Breaking

Tanzanian girl teenager with friends
Tanzanian albino girl teenager with friends. Those suffering from albinism in Tanzania are in constant danger of critical violence, torture, mistreatment, and even death. Image: Alex Wynter/IFRC

(WNN/UN) Dodoma, TANZANIA, AFRICA: In a recent horrible series of attacks those who suffer under albinism in Tanzania have continued to become specific targets of violence that comes with little to no protection.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, says she “strongly condemns these vicious killings and attacks, which were committed in particularly horrifying circumstances, including dismembering people, children included, while they are still alive.”

Ms. Al Shaymaa J. Kwegyir, a Tanzanian member of parliament who is also albino, described albinism in 2009 as a “disability just like any other form of disability” but in Tanzania it’s a condition where many sufferers are forced into hiding for fear of their lives.

Not only do many Tanzanians believe albinism is a curse, the body parts of albinos are sought by witch doctors for use in potions sold to bring wealth and good luck.

“Everyone affected by racism has a story that should be heard,” said Kwegyir during a 2009 event at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva.

She was born into a family with nine children, three of whom are albinos.  Kwegyir was more fortunate than many in the albino community.  “We were loved by our parents and relatives.  There was no stigmatization within the family,” she said.

When Kwegyir asked her mother why she was white, what was the problem, her mother always assured her there was no problem.

For many other albinos it’s a very different story.  Not only are they often cast out by their own families, in some tribes they are killed immediately after birth, and they are commonly hunted down and murdered because their body parts are used by witch doctors.

There are no figures on the numbers of albinos in Tanzania but albinism is more common in Africa than the rest of the world.  Around 1 in 20,000 people world-wide have albinism, a genetic disorder which results in significant reduction or absence of pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair.

In Tanzania very few albinos manage to go beyond primary school with few opportunities to compete for jobs. The incidence of poverty among albinos says Kwegyir, is alarming.

Their poverty also makes it impossible for many of them to access appropriate medical care including the preventative medications for skin cancer which is common amongst albinos especially in tropical zones.

With the support of her family Kwegyir managed to go on through secondary school despite the daily taunts she faced on the streets and to a career in the civil service.  For many years she has campaigned for the recognition and rights of albinos in Tanzania and last year her efforts were recognized by the President of Tanzania who appointed her a member of parliament.

With the support of the government, Kwegyir now campaigns on behalf of all disabled persons but particularly for albinos.

In a dangerous act of cultural discrimination and exploitation, those who are considered to be ‘albinos’ in Tanzanian society are also considered to be ‘witches’. They are also too often the targets for violence that is often unprecedented inside Tanzanian society.

UN Radio’s Mamadou Alpha Diallo in Geneva spoke recently to Ms. Cecile Pouilly from the UN Human Rights Office about these recent attacks.

Listen to this recent report from UN Radio: