Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Malawi of a systematic failure in policing following the abduction and killings of several albino men, women and children in recent months.
It’s believed the victims’ bones are sold to practitioners of traditional medicine in the belief they will bring good luck and wealth.
Amnesty said that since November 2014 in Malawi, at least 18 people with albinism have been killed, and at least five have been abducted and remain missing. The organization suspects the real numbers are much higher because most of the crimes are not reported.
“The issue of persons living with albinism and the discrimination against them is not new," said Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty, "but what we’ve picked up now is an alarming rise in horrific practices of killings, abductions." There were four killings, including a baby, in April alone, he said.
One story, that of a woman named Edna who has twin albino sons, typifies the horrific nature of the abductions.
Earlier this year, a group of men broke into the family home and grabbed one son by the head. Edna said she grabbed the child's legs, and the boy was pulled in different directions as she tried to rescue him. Then, in response to instructions from a man who had remained outside the home, one abductor drew a large knife and cut the mother's arm. She released the child, and the men took him.
Around 10,000 Malawians live with albinism, a noncontagious, genetic condition in which the skin, hair and eyes lack pigment. Campaigners say they face discrimination daily — and the increase in attacks has left them terrified.
Amnesty accuses Malawian authorities of a systematic failure of policing.
“Only two cases of murder have actually resulted in convictions, so there is no deterrent effect," Shetty said. "So one of the things we are calling on the Malawian government to do, particularly in rural districts, is that there should be visible policing.”
Disputing Amnesty’s findings, government spokeswoman Patricia Kaliati told VOA that new measures to tackle the killings include a ban on traditional herbalists and harsher sentences for the perpetrators.
“We are making all those steps to ensure that we protect persons with albinism," Kaliati said. "There are those stiff punishments which we are giving to the perpetrators. We can’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Start killing those [who] are being caught killing persons with albinism.’ ”
Amnesty said the measures don’t go far enough to protect one of the country’s most vulnerable communities.