UN experts on Friday urged action against attacks on people with albinism leading up to Malawi’s elections in May.
This declaration comes on the heels of the killing of one person and the separate abduction of a baby.
Discrimination against people with albinism has been a problem in the past in Malawi—150 cases of these attacks have been recorded in the country since 2014, and experts are concerned that the violence could get worse with the coming election. The experts called for the government to “redouble its efforts” and “implement all necessary measures” to protect people with albinism.
The spike around election time is due to the false belief that ritual use of the body parts of people with albinism can bring good luck and political power. This leads to “torture, murder, discrimination and exclusion, including banishment from communities.”
These crimes are rarely prosecuted, which leads to a sense of impunity among the perpetrators.
Many believe the condition is contagious, and some believe the condition is caused by infidelity or punishment from the gods. Albinism is an inherited genetic condition that causes the body to produce little or no melanin. The incidence of albinism in Europe and the US is 1 in 20,000 while in sub-Saharan Africa it is 1 in 5,000-15,000.
Currently in Malawi the ratio is 1 in 1,800. The UN says that a full set of body parts from a person with albinism can sell for up to USD $75,000. Most of the Malawi population lives in extreme poverty, so some of these attacks come from close family members of the victims who are seeking wealth.