1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Zambians with albinism fight for end to brutal attacks

January 29, 2017

At least ten albinos are murdered in ritual killings every year in Zambia. Some believe albino body parts bring wealth or luck. Those born with the genetic condition are calling for an end to this madness.

A boy living with albinism plays with other children who don't have the condition.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T.Mukwazhi

There are more than 25,000 people living with albinism in Zambia. Cases of albino killings are rarer here compared with other African countries, such as neighboring Tanzania. According to the Red Cross, witchdoctors in Tanzania are willing to pay up to $75,000 (70,000 euros) for a complete set of albino body parts.

Nevertheless, in a recent attack, a 37-year old albino woman was brutally murdered by suspected ritual killers in a remote village in eastern Zambia. They cut off her right hand and plucked out her teeth. Eight other similar murders have been recorded in 2016 in various parts of the country.

A man living with albinism in hospital after undergoing treatment for his chopped arm.
Many persons with albinism have lost their limbs in ritual practises such as the man pictured above Image: AP

Baidon Chandipo, 23, a Zambian who was born with the genetic condition, told DW that he continuously faces incessant teasing and bullying from peers.

"Most of the people in our community discriminate against any person with albinism," Chandipo said. "That is what is affecting a lot of albinos out there."

Understanding albinism

Albinism is a genetic condition that results in the absence of melanin, a pigment which is responsible for giving color to the eyes, skin and hair. This lack of melanin means that people living with albinism are more susceptible to specific health conditions, especially skin cancers. Most of them also wear sunglasses and hats to help them see clearly during the day.

The Human Rights Commission of Zambia has admitted that more needs to be done to address human rights violations against people living with albinism. Mwelwa Muleya, the commission's spokesperson, told DW that they were doing everything possible to improve the lives of those with albinism.

"We have been concerned about the complaints that there's inadequate support when it comes to the [sunscreen] lotion to protect their skin," Muleya said. "The Human Rights Commission of Zambia has been engaging the government on this issue, to ensure that there is adequate health and social welfare provided for persons with albinism."

Campaign to end albino killings

The Albino Foundation of Zambia (AFZ) has been campaigning for the equal treatment of people living with albinism and for an end to the misconception that their bodies could be used to gain wealth. John Chiti, Executive Director of AFZ, told DW that Zambian albinos are worried about their safety.

"We have people who hunt down persons with albinism for their body parts, which they believe can cure certain diseases and make money," Chiti said. He also said persons with albinism are living in fear and are not really enjoying their full human rights. "All the time they have to worry about who‘s behind them and many of them have lost their lives."

Kathy Short in Lusaka contributed to this article.