‘We Are Being Hunted Like Animals:’ Malawi’s Albino People Are Threatened By Human Poachers

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Kabula Nkarango Masanja waits during a prosthetic limb fitting, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. Kabula and four children from Tanzania are in the U.S. to receive free surgery and prostheses after they were attacked and dismembered in the belief that their body parts will bring wealth.

Police last week uncovered the severed head of a 9-year-old albino boy who was abducted from his home in eastern Malawi. His brutal killing is suspected to be tied to an increase in albino deaths across East Africa due to beliefs that their bones contain magical properties.

The incident “shows the grave danger faced by people with albinism in Malawi,” Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International, which confirmed the killing, said in a statement.

According to the international human rights’ organization, two people with albinism have been killed in Malawi so far this year, and five others are missing.

In April, Malawi’s inspector general of police ordered his offers to immediately shoot anyone who appears to be abducting albinos in order to protect them from “dangerous criminals.”

“Shoot every criminal who is violent when caught red-handed abducting people with albinism,” Lexen Kachama said.

“We cannot just watch while our friends with albinism are being killed like animals every day. We do realize that these people are ruthless, have no mercy and therefore they need to be treated just like that.”

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There has been uptick in attacks against Malawi’s albino population. In some cases, albino people’s own family members have led them into criminal hands in order to collect life-changing sums of money for their bones. According to the International Red Cross, a “complete set” of albino bones can be sold for up to $75,000 in neighboring Tanzania.

Last year, the subsaharan African nation saw more than 30 criminal cases related to the killing, abduction, and trafficking of albino people’s bones which are believed to have special powers by some in East Africa.

“Just imagine, there are even some daredevils who go to cemeteries to dig graves where people with albinism were buried,” said Nicholas Gondwa, a police spokesperson. “All that is done in the name of hunting for the body parts or bones of albinos.”

Criminal gangs of so-called “albino hunters” have been on the rise in Malawi, largely to fill a demand for the bones of albino people from Tanzania, where they are highly prized in black magic ceremonies. Efforts to protect albino people in Tanzania has led to increased attacks in neighboring countries such as Malawi and Burundi.

“Those who are in the business of selling body parts of albinos … have established a market in Malawi, because it has become tougher to do business in Tanzania,” Boniface Massah, a Malawian albino rights’ activist, said. “We are hunted like animals.”