Accessibility links

Breaking News

Albinism Community in Malawi Demands an End to Attacks

FILE - A 3-year-old boy with albinism is seen with his friends at their family home in this May, 23, 2016, photo in Machinga, Malawi.
FILE - A 3-year-old boy with albinism is seen with his friends at their family home in this May, 23, 2016, photo in Machinga, Malawi.

BLANTYRE, MALAWI - The Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi, or APAM, is appealing for urgent intervention to stop continued attacks on people with albinism in the country.

This comes after unidentified people in June tampered with a grave in Blantyre, a city in southern Malawi, exhumed a body and removed its arms and legs. The incident has raised existing fears within the community, advocates say.

Young Mahamba, president of APAM, said the incident is the seventh this year alone.

"We also had three tampering with graves and another two attacks on the 9th of last month [June 9]," Mahamba told VOA. "And also, in Phalombe [a district in the southern region of Malawi], there was the tampering of graves. This one was discovered on 20th March without limbs as [was] this one."

Since 2014, more than 170 albinos have been killed or attacked in Malawi because of false beliefs that concoctions mixed with their body parts bring luck and wealth, according to official data.

In the past, religious leaders, police, herbalists and relatives of the deceased have been named and arrested in connection to the attacks and body exhumations.

A high court in Blantyre sentenced a police officer, a Catholic priest and four others to 30 years imprisonment with hard labor in June after finding them guilty of transacting human remains of a person with albinism.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Pauline Kaude, told VOA that since 2019 the government has been working on seven priority areas in its national action plan to end such attacks.

Kaude said the areas include enhancing security, administration of justice and empowerment of people with albinism.

The government is also boosting security at the homes of vulnerable people with albinism. But APAM's Mahamba said it needs to be a collaborative effort.

"We just hear of projects concerning welfare of people with albinism, but we do not see them on the ground," Mahamba told VOA. "The international organizations should come forward and assist. They should not wait for the issue to come out of hand [and] to be hearing three or four cases per day, no."

Mahamba said the government needs to review — and improve — its efforts to protect people with albinism from attacks and make changes where needed.

"If you ask each and every person with albinism here in Malawi, they will tell you that this issue hasn't stopped, and we don't have peace. So, there is no time [to] relax, to hold the breaks in terms of our security," Mahamba said.

Peter Kalaya, national spokesperson for Malawi Police Service, said police are not able to make progress because of the false beliefs by some that there is a viable demand for body parts.

"People just believe there is a market, and they have been attacking people with albinism chopping off their limbs and body parts. They do not even know where to sell them," Kalaya said. "If we ask the suspects that we have arrested, there has been no one who has come to us and said, 'I was taking these to someone, and he is the one who buys body parts.’"

Kalaya said the police are, however, working with various interventions to end the attacks, including a program that empowers members of the community to detect and report suspected incidents aimed at people with albinism.

The program, Kalaya added, has led to the arrest of many people suspected of being attackers.

This story originated in VOA's English to Africa Service.