Albino children in Africa are mutilated and murdered for their body parts—parts sold to those who practice a strange religious tradition, a tradition based on the erroneous and horrific belief that albino body parts hold strong, magical powers.
In eastern parts of Burundi and several regions of north-west Tanzania, in countries like Rwanda and Nigeria, albinos are considered members of a tribe of ghosts. They are referred to as zeros or the invisibles.
An investigative report by The Daily Mail explained how the remains of these albino children are used in human potions by traditional healers to treat the sick. This tradition coupled with unusually high rates of skin cancer among albinos in the region, have combined to make the lives of African albinos exceptionally challenging.
Many experts in Burundi and Tanzania agree that the increased use of murdered albino body parts as good-luck charms arose suddenly (when?) and may be the result of “a kind of marketing exercise by witch doctors” who, according to the same experts, may have stoked interest in these bizarre beliefs in response to the same economic struggles experienced by others elsewhere in the world.
In addition to believing body parts of these children can bring good luck and good health, there are fishermen who allegedly weave the hair of the children into their fishing nets to assure a big catch; even as miners grind and bury albino bones because some believe when buried in the earth the bones of albino children are transformed into diamonds. There are even reports of some men with Aids believing sex with an albino will cure them of the disease. There are even those who use the children’s genitalia to create treatments alleged to bolster sexuality.
Sellers of albino body parts have claimed a single albino limb can bring $600, a corpse, nearly $75,000. To those in Africa who follow this ancient tradition, the organs and blood of albino children are apparently worth more to them than the lives of the children themselves—a shocking and disturbing revelation.
The horror faced by Africa’s albino children was first brought to the attention of the west in 2009, following the release of a landmark report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Through Albino Eyes, the plight of albino people in Africa’s Great Lakes region and a Red Cross response. The report, could have served as a clarion call for international attention, collective compassion and universal assistance for these children; instead, the story never caught fire with the American public; eight years later, the maiming and murdering of albino children continues.
You do not have to be a family member or close friend of the more than 17,000 American albinos to understand the complex challenges faced by children born without pigmentation. According to the National Institute of Health, Albinism occurs “when one of several genetic defects makes the body unable to produce or distribute melanin.” Melanin is a natural substance that gives color to hair, skin and the iris of the eye.
While albino children are hunted and slaughtered like animals in Africa, Americans, with the exception of a few attentive media outlets and a handful of courageous individuals, have remained largely silent on this issue. Activists wonder where the cries of outrage are. Where are America and the world’s demands for more to be done to end this most egregious human rights violation?
Critics wonder whether such cries are muted because America needs to re-examine its own conscience regarding how it treats albinos in this country. All across the nation, albinos are bullied with minimal public outcry—whether you scan the news of American towns like Tarrytown, New York; Memphis, Tennessee, incidents of albino-bullying in America are all too frequent. Critics are clear such bullying in America pales in comparison to the atrocities experienced by albinos in Africa.
Many of us are aware of the horrible acts by poachers in parts of Africa who brutally slaughter elephants and rhinos for their ivory. Yet, it appears the world has closed its eyes and ears to the plight of Africa’s albino children so brutalized that the details of some of their cases would probably shock the sensibilities of elephant and rhinoceros poachers. Being born albino in parts of Africa almost guarantees a life of tortured disfigurement and the high probability of an early, brutal and painful death.
I once heard that the Dalai Lama once reminded the world that compassion is held as the greatest of virtues in every great religion, and that compassion, like love is a necessity, not a luxury. To this end, advocates believe it should be difficult for any compassionate person to learn of the plight of albino children in Africa and casually turn away.
The official death toll of African albinos at the hands of hunters stood at 44 killed in Tanzania and 12 in some of the eastern Burundian provinces in 2009—though many believe the number was actually higher. Since that time the number of deaths have continued to increase.
For African Americans, this revelation is part of an African-based heritage difficult to own but critical to change. Many believe the time has come for the global community to find its voice on this issue and join other like-minded individuals in advocating for an end to this archaic and barbaric tradition.
The courage needed to fight against this tragedy may be found in actions like those taken by famed author and poet Alice Walker, who in the 1990s, used her notoriety to bring the world’s attention to another ancient and barbaric tradition – female circumcision.
To view the landmark Red Cross report visit www.ifrc.org
This article originally appeared in Black Voice News Sept, 2015.
Special to the NNPA from Black Voice News