The last event occurred in the district of Moatize, in the north west of Mozambique. A 17 years old boy was killed and brutally maimed. The killers amputated his legs and arms, to take his bones, they cut his hair and after smashing his skull they took away his brain. A macabre ritual performed to forage the flourishing market of Albinos’ organs and body parts. A business born from ignorance, from popular legends that, in Africa, have become a reason for persecution against those who are suffering from this congenital abnormality of the pigmentation of skin and hair.
The children of the devil
In the black continent, they are called “children of the moon“, “children of the devil” or “zeru zeru” (“ghost people”) and they are the subject of slander and discrimination. There are those who consider their birth a divine curse on the family of origin. Others believe that they are the fruit of the clandestine relationship between the mother and a white man. The social aversion towards the albinos is so strong that husbands leave their wives after childbirth or the women themselves abandon or kill the new-born. And in the rare cases in which the child suffering from albinism will be accepted and grown by his parents, these will still be forced to lead an outcast life, with difficulties of access to education and to labour market and with the further concern of having to constantly watch their backs to avoid being assassinated.
The case of the seventeen-year-old boy killed in Mozambique, therefore, is not an isolated event. The persecution of these people, in fact, is widespread in 23 countries of Africa, which in turn is the continent with the highest rate of albinism, caused mainly by the frequent sexual relations between kin. The phenomenon has recently amplified in the south and east of Africa, especially in Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Here, according to the UN, albinos are between 20 and 30 thousand on 26 million inhabitants.
But, net of discrimination against the diversity, the superstitions are the main cause that constitute the background of persecution. Their condition of “cursed” people, increases the aura of magic around the albinos, considered bearer of thaumaturgic powers. The frequent mutilations are introductory to the fulfilment of witchcraft rituals. The limbs, the organs and even the skin are sold to fabricate talismans against the evil eye or to treat diseases. Some people believe that raping a “Ghost” woman is an effective method to heal by HIV. With the consequence that the victim of the rape, in addition to having to live with the trauma, will in turn be infected and destined to die. Drinking the blood of these people, according to another belief would make people rich. While their bones would contain gold. Even the dead are targeted. According to a dossier of Amnesty International on the phenomenon in Malawi, between 2014 and 2015 the police of the African country has recorded “at least 39 illegal exhumations of albinos’ bodies”.
A profitable turnover has been built in a short time on ignorance. There is, in fact, who is willing to spend up to 2 thousand dollars to buy the hand of an albino and 75 thousand for the whole body. The accomplices of the killings and mutilation are often the same families of the victims, enticed by the offers of wealthy men who are greedy to complete their macabre ‘collection‘. As usual, in short, hunger and misery make man a beast.
The business is managed by ruthless criminal organizations, comparable to those dedicated to drug trafficking. Several initiatives have been taken by the African governments to curb the phenomenon but none has had the desired effects. The answer must be, in fact, especially cultural. And in fact, in April 2017 the Independent Expert on the Human Rights of persons suffering from albinism of the United Nations in collaboration with the African Commission on Human Rights, the African Committee of Experts on the rights and welfare of the Child and other organizations such as UNICEF and UNESCO have drafted a Regional Plan of Action against attacks on people suffering from albinism, lasting 5 years. The program provides for short and long term initiatives and safety measures. One of the key points of this plan is the promotion of awareness campaigns about albinism so that the myths and superstitions caused by ignorance can be overthrown. The plan will also provide for campaigns of public education, support to the victims and the distribution of free pre-cancer protective sun creams and treatments.