Malawi: albino attack (2015 case)

In Malawi, attacking, mutilating and killing persons with albinism is rampant. Body parts of albinos are mistakenly believed to bring power and wealth. Not a year passes without one or more reports of these heinous crimes. The following example merely illustrates this and definitely is no exception. 

In November 2015 three men attacked a 17-year old boy with albinism, Alfred Chikalo, and nearly killed him with the intention to sell his body parts. It was not the only case of attacks on people with albinism in 2015. Police in Phalombe district arrested the three culprits who confessed hacking Alfred Chikalo. A few weeks later, Police in Phalombe district arrested a 29-year old man, Lawo Sambani, who was accused of being the mastermind behind the plot to attack the 17-year old boy. The victim sustained deep stab wounds in the head, both arms and on the upper part of his left leg. He was rushed to the hospital and discharged a couple of weeks later.

It was announced that the four men in police custody will be brought to court. Unfortunately, since their detention, nothing is known about their trial. To be continued. (FVDK)

More details in the following articles (warning: the original articles contain a graphic picture showing the victim):

Albino attack: three arrested and confess hacking 17-year-old boy
Published: December 8, 2015
By: Maurice Nkawihe – Nyasa Times

and

Mastermind of Albino attack arrested – Malawi Police
Published: December 15, 2015
By: Maurice Nkawihe – Nyasa Times

Phalombe district – Malawi

Roadblock movie tells true story of Malawi albino killings

Published: February 22, 2019
By: Harold Kapindu 

Inspired by real life events, “The Roadblock” is a creative movie depicting the story of Joseph, a humble, genius young boy with albinism.

A Restoration Films production, powered by Magic Promotions, “The Roadblock” is set for release at the end of February, 2019.

Played by Smith Kanono, one Monday morning Joseph returned from school upon seeing suspicious men coupled with a bad dream the previous night although his mother forced him to go back.

However, Joseph did not make it back home. He was killed by unknown men and after the funeral ceremony, the suspects were apprehended at the Roadblock for being found in possession of human bones. They all got sentenced.

Commenting on the movie, Magic Promotions Co-founder Chris Loka condemned the killing of people with albinism, describing the acts as “barbaric”.

“As Magic promotions, we thought it is wise to partner with Restoration films in condemning the barbaric act of killing people with albinism. They are our sisters and brothers therefore we need to protect them at any cost. It is unfortunate that they should be living in fear, and apart from that, as stipulated in the Constitution of Malawi (section 16), they have right to life,” Loka explained.

He added that the acts are uncalled for, saying people with albinism should have peace.

Loka quarried: “This is their country. Where do we think they can go and find peace? Obviously, its nowhere! Let them find comfort here. People with albinism form part of our audience when we have events. They give us support. It is therefore inhumane to be killing our supporters and audience.”

In his remarks, Restoration films Director Alex Standy said: “People think to be patriotic is only by voting or involve yourself in politics but that is not the case. We also need to be concerned with issues of national concern.”

He further added that he believes people will learn something from the film.

Written and directed by Alex Standy, “The Roadblock” was shot by Bonface Kawinga and Paul Pascal.

The movie stars Bololo (Lovemore Muluwira), Jentele (Happy Matenda) as the men dealing with bones business, Joseph (Smith Kanono) as the murdered boy with albinism and Mrs Iness Standy Katendema as class teacher at Kawale Secondary School.

Loka (second from right) with others involved in the movie
The Road block movie

Source: Malawi: Roadblock Movie Tells True Story of Malawi Albino Killings

Read the original article on Nyasa Times 

Malawi: ‘Buleya unnatural death’ – Preliminary autopsy on albino kidnap suspect vindicates many

Buleya Luke, the suspect in the abduction of the albino boy in Dedza, died in police custody raising suspicion his sudden death was unnatural. 

Published: February 23, 2019
By: AllAfrica.com 

Reservations by a majority of Malawians that Buleya Lule– a suspect who allegedly offered to ‘buy’ a 14-year-old Dedza boy with albinism for K800 000 last week and died in police custody Thursday–did not succumb to natural death have been vindicated by results of a preliminary autopsy which indicates foul play.

An autoposy report filed by South African Jorge Kirk revealed Buleya sustained 3 main injuries which caused his death.

Kirk was assisted by local histopathologists Charles Dzamalala and Tamiwe Tomika.

Charles Dzamalala

According to their report, a head injury caused by hitting pressure from a cyclindrical metal rod was experienced.

“Bleeding in the brain was observed,” the experts say in the report. “A tummy side injury was caused by electrocution.”

The electrocution is singled out as the cause of Buleya’s death.

“Injuries on buttocks is yet to be analysed,” the experts say.

Nyasa Times has learnt that the samples are expected to be flown to South Africa where comprehensive analysis is going to continue; where, after two weeks a final report will be released for action

DNA samples have been taken for further investigations on suspects who killed him in the police cell, we have also learnt

Sainess Kalekeni, step-father of missing 14-year-old Goodson Makanjira told court, that Buleya tricked them into surrendering the boy to him with an offer of K800 000.

“I was enticed by a promise that I would get K800 000. I was told that a market is already there and I would get the money instantly which is not the case,” Kalekeni said on Wednesday, before Lilongwe Principal Magistrate Viva Nyimba.

But before Buleya and others could return to court Friday to answer the case of ‘abduction with intent to murder’, he died Thursday in enigmatic circumstances.

Calls were rife through various platforms, heightened by the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) lawyer Khwima Nchizi who sought an injuction restraining anyone from burying Buleya’s body until an independent autopsy was done.

Nchizi had argued that letting the body go without the exercise would mean “losing useful information” that would lead to busting the market for albino body parts.

Meanwhile, APAM says it will proceed with a three day vigil at Kamuzu Palace from March 3 to press the government step up security for people with albinism.

Read the original article on Nyasa Times 

Source: Malawi: ‘Buleya Unnatural Death’ – Preliminary Autopsy On Albino Kidnap Suspect Vindicates Many
PS The above link will be available to subscribers only after a couple of months.

Malawi: Police accused of killing albino murder suspect in cell – Luke family says ‘Its ploy to protect Biggie’

Warning: The article reproduced here contains at its end a graphic picture and video. Readers are warned that if they continue they run the risk of being confronted with the result of torture. 

Rumors can never replace the truth but I thought it useful to publish here the suspicion expressed by the sister of the deceased that the sudden death of her brother while in police custody was caused by the police in an attempt to hide the identity of ‘big shots’ who are involved in the atrocities committed including the mutilation and murder of people with albinism. It is not the first time that allegations are made that a syndicate is behind the disappearance and murdering of innocent people with albinism in Malawi.  See e.g. my posting dated January 21, 2019: Malawi: MP Kalindo threatens to reveal syndicate on albino ritual murders (Webmaster FVDK).

The suspect, Buleya Luke , who died while in police custody.

Published: February 22, 2019
By: Osman Faiti and Owen Khamula – Nyasa Times

Sister to a suspect believed to be the master minder in the abduction of a 14-year-old boy with albinism in Dedza has said the police have killed his brother in cell.

Anne Luke, sister to Buleya Luke whom the police said has died of “natural causes” whilst in police custody has doubted the police account.

“My brother never complained of any ailments. Even yesterday, when he appeared in court, he looked healthy. The police have killed him,” said Anne in tears.

She said the police never allowed the relatives to see him at Area 3 police station which she said might have been a sign that he was being tortured.

Cousin to the deceased suspect, Samson Black said the police refused his request to accompany his uncle to Kamuzu Central Hospital.

“They flatly told me I could not join them. He was half naked and it was as if his skin was peeled off by hot water,” said Black.

Luke was said to be the key suspect who recruited those who abducted Goodson Makanjira at a fee of K800 000 which he never honored.

He is said to have known the markets for the body parts of people with albinism.

Apparently, he was willing to reveal the “biggie” behind the albino killings.

The family suspect Luke has been killed to protect the “biggie” and the powerful syndicate behind the albino ritual murders from being exposed. (Italics added by the webmaster FVDK).

Most of the suspects in albino killings either die under police custody or are reported to commit suicide in suspicious circumstance

Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (Apam) president Overstone Kondowe said he was suspicious with the police version whilst Lilongwe police spokesperson Kingsley Dandaula said people should wait for an autopsy report.

On Monday, European Union Ambassador Sandra Paesen called for serious criminal investigations and coordination among countries to fight abductions and killings of people with albinism.

According to Apam, since November 2014, the number of reported crimes against people with albinism in Malawi has risen to 152 cases, including 25 murders and more than 10 people missing. (Italics added by the webmaster FVDK).

Warning: The following short video may shock people because of its graphic content. The video shows the victim. Click here to watch the video. The picture below (‘Death in police custody: Buleya Luke’) is a still from the video. 

Read the original article on Nyasa Times 

Source: Malawi: Police Accused of Killing Albino Murder Suspect in Cell – Luke Family Says ‘Its Ploy to Protect Biggie’
PS The above link will be available to subscribers only after a couple of months.

Malawi: Albino abduction suspect dies in custody

People with albinism are attacked by those who belief they can use their body parts in witchcraft spells

Published: February 18-21, 2019
By: BBC

A key suspect in the abduction of a 14-year-old boy with albinism has died in police custody in Malawi.

Luka Buleya was reported dead this morning after a brief court appearance in the capital Lilongwe yesterday. 

Mr Buleya’s nephew, Samson Bulaki, said the family were suspicious about his death and showed the BBC pictures of his body with multiple burns.

Police said they were waiting for the post-mortem before they discussed the cause of death. 

Mr Buleya had been accused of ordering two people to kidnap the boy last week in the central region district of Dedza, some 100km south of Lilongwe.

The Association of Persons with Albinism head, Overstone Kondowe, said he hoped Mr Buleya’s death would not deny the nation an opportunity to unmask a syndicate and provide leads to a market for body parts.

Killings and abductions of persons with albinism have become a huge problem in Malawi.

Persons with albinism are hunted and killed or have limbs chopped off by people who use them for making charms they believe can make people rich or bring them good luck.

The 14-year-old boy’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Source: Albino abduction suspect dies in custody

Related article:
Suspect In Albino Abduction Dies In Custody
Published: February 21, 13:52
By: Online journalist – Andrew Viano – Zodiak Online 

Lule – Pic courtesy of social media

One of the key suspects who answering charges in the abduction of a 14 year boy with albinism in Dedza has died.  Police say Buleya Lule, 44, was unwell and was rushed to Kamuzu Central Hospital where he died Wednesday evening but his family relations have told Zodiak online he has been “killed” in police cell.

“our relative was well when he left court Yesterday, [Wednesday] what happened during the night?” Wondered Lule’s Sister Annie Lule. “The police have killed him” She added in tears.

Buleya’s nephew Samson corroborated Annie’s version saying he was at the area 3 police when his uncle was moved on a stretcher from the cell into a police van heading to the hospital.

“I was at the court and he was very well, later in the evening when I went to give him food I was told I can’t see him, I insisted and while waited it was when I saw him taken to hospital.

Samson says he saw his uncle with burns on the thighs “like he was scotched with hot water” he said.

Public Relations Officer for Lilongwe Police, Kingsley Dandaula could neither confirm nor deny the assault allegations saying they will wait for a postmortem.

 “When the suspect was reported unwell, we rushed him to Kamuzu Central where he passed on. We are yet get a postmortem report on what has killed him” says Dandaula.

At the court on Wednesday, another suspect in the case Kumbilani Patson who is Goodson Makanjira’s step dad told the court Mr. Lule offered him 800 000 kwacha for the boy.

Dandaula complained that following the death of Lule the police might have lost information relevant to the investigation.

(By Andrew Viano)

Other related article:
Breaking: Key suspect in abduction of child with albinism dies in Malawi police custody
Published: February 21, 2019
By: KONDWANI MKHALIPI-MANYUNGWA

Buleya Luke, the suspect said to have have hired and paid people to abduct a 14 year-old boy with albinism, Goodson Makanjira, has died while in police custody.

According to information that this publication has gathered, Buleya Luke was arrested following a confession by Goodson’s step father, Sainess Kalekeni, and an accomplice, Kambiloni Patson. He is said to have died mysteriously while in police custody where he was awaiting trial.

Kalekeni and Patson pleaded guilty to the charges of abducting the young child with albinism. They said Luke had promised to give them K800 000.

Buleya has died mysteriously

“I was enticed by a promise that I would get K800 000. I was told that a market is already there and I would get the money instantly which is not the case,” the stepfather said on Wednesday.

The boy who was abducted from his house over a week ago is still missing and the two suspects told the court they do not know whether Goodson was alive or not. But confessed that Goodson was still alive when he was handed over to the Luke.

“My job was simply to get Goodson and hand him over to Buleya. I would not know whether he is alive or not,” said Kalekeni.

The innocent child was abducted in the area of chief Chilikumwendo’s area in Dedza on February 13.

This year, at least five cases of attacks against persons with albinism have been recorded in the country. (Italics added by the webmaster FVDK)

Meanwhile, APAM plans to hold vigils at Kamuzu Palace to pressurise President Peter Mutharika to attack action against the attacks.

According to the association, participants in the vigil will congregate at Lilongwe Community Centre Ground and thereafter march to Kamuzu Palace where they will deliver a petition to President Peter Mutharika.

After handing over the petition, the protesters will remain at Kamuzu Palace where they will hold a vigil for three days.

But Homeland Security minister Nicholas Dausi said the attacks on people with albinism in Malawi have not yet reached crisis levels. This is despite the United Nations declaring that the genocide currently underway in Malawi has left people with albinism at the risk of extinction.

Remarks by the Homeland Security Minister has forced the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi to withdraw its membership from the presidential task force on people with albinism.

The Police are yet to comment on the mysterious death of Buleya Luke. His death has cast a dark shadow on the whereabouts of the missing 14 year old child.

Meanwhile, Malawians have reacted with horror and shock to the news of Luke’s death.

“Now i am scared more than ever. Shocking😢😢😢” wrote Louis Makungwa on Facebook.

Others have alleged that Dausi’s remarks were foretelling of what would before the suspect, saying government is protecting people behind the abductions and killings of people with albinism.

Joseph Kanyunya Moyo commenting on our Facebook, had this to say on Buleya’s death: “It’s the weakness of DPP government. How can this happen swiftly and within a short period of time. The government doesn’t want information to be revealed. This was a person who should have been protected and care for owing to the fact that revelations regarding these barbaric acts on people with albinism will be made. Poor govt.”

Other related article:
Albino murder suspect “Buleya” found dead in police custody
Published: February 21, 2019
by: Face of Malawi – Ndi Kelvin Chaguza

A man who was suspected to have had a hand in the abduction of an albino person in Dedza has been found dead in police cell today, police have confirmed.

Luke Buleya was nabbed together with other five suspects in connection to the missing of 14-year-old Goodson Makanjira who went missing some weeks ago.

Yesterday, Buleya was brought before Lilongwe Magistrate Court where he appeared as if he was having some seizures but many thought he was only faking.

Two other suspects told Lilongwe Magistrate Court that Buleya offered them a sum of K800, 000 hence the abduction of the young albino boy.

The death of Buleya is therefore a big blow to justice on albino killings as it was expected that he could have been the one to reveal where body parts of albinos are being sold.

Buleya and five other suspects including the step father of the victim are facing charges of abducting in order to murder contrary to Section 261 of the Penal Code and unlawful wounding contrary to Section 24 of the Penal Code.

Meanwhile, police spokesperson James Kadzadzera said police will give more details on what has led to the death of Buleya.

Other related article:
Key suspect in abduction of albino teenboy dies in Malawi police custody: Buleya was fit and well
Published: February 21, 2019
By: Nyasa Times

“It felt like a punishment”: growing up with albinism in Tanzania

A must read. Though a very lengthy report that I reproduce here, it contains such a wealth of information on albinism, people living with albinism, their fears, their dangers, the measures taken by the Government of Tanzania, that I thought I must conserve it and present to you.
I will not even try to summarize it or give some sketchy details, judge for yourself. 
(Webmaster FVDK)

Published: February 9, 2019 3:01AM EST
By: Human Rights Watch

Two girls play in the shade of the outer walls of the orphanage in Mwanza, Tanzania. After the orphanage started accepting children with albinism, the walls were secured with barbed wire.@2016 Sacha de Boer

Introduction

Many children with albinism in Tanzania share similar stories of hardship. The “temporary holding shelters” strategy introduced by the Tanzanian government in the late 2000s may have contributed to a decline in the number of physical attacks, but Human Rights Watch observed that it led to the emergence of additional challenges.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 children and young people with albinism, aged 7 to 18 years old, and 26 other people, including family members, education professionals and nongovernmental organizations in the Mwanza, Shinyanga and Simiyu regions of Tanzania. There, we found that Tanzanian government policies designed to protect children with albinism incidentally had a negative impact on their rights to family life, an adequate standard of living and inclusive education. In order to protect their privacy and shield them from potential repercussions, the names of most interviewees referred to hereafter have been changed.

While the Tanzanian government appears sensitive to these concerns, it should now intensify efforts to reinsert children with albinism into their communities and provide them with inclusive education, while continuing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for attacking children with albinism. By doing so, Tanzania has an opportunity to emerge as a strong African leader in ensuring the safety, inclusion and dignity of people with albinism, as outlined in the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa, the first-ever continental strategy to address violations against people with albinism, adopted in 2017.[1]

What Is The Best Interests of the Child Principle?

The Best Interest of the Child principle derives from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It requires state parties to prioritize the interests of the child in any action that may impact them. This includes taking into consideration the child’s own views and desires, his identity, his need for care and development and his right to a safe family and community environment. These factors should be considered altogether and balanced against one another if in contradiction. State intervention should be based on individual assessments of the particular child whose situation requires it.

Recommendations To the Government of Tanzania

  • Increase public sensitization efforts aimed at dispelling deadly and discriminatory myths about albinism, notably through workshops and public service announcements on radio and television, particularly in rural and isolated communities.
  • Ensure that all teachers in the public education system are trained to adequately provide for the specific needs of children with albinism.
  • Ensure that resources are at the disposal of schools to meet the specifications needed of children with albinism, notably by providing for textbooks and exams with larger fonts and assistive devices to read the blackboard.
  • Pursue efforts to promote the safety of people with albinism by investigating threats and crimes against people with albinism and holding those responsible to account.
  • Work with parents and communities to ensure the safe and orderly reunification of children with albinism with their families, with the goal of progressively dismantling the temporary holding shelters.

Recommendations to International Donors

  • Support projects dedicated to sensitizing the Tanzanian public to albinism and training teachers to provide for the specific needs of children with albinism in public schools.
  • Support the Tanzanian government in reuniting children with albinism with their families and ensuring their return to a safe, inclusive community.

Albinism in Tanzania

Children sitting in a row, among them one child with albinism.
Lightness, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, and her family attend a Lutheran church every Sunday. Ukerewe Island, Tanzania @2016 Sacha de Boer

Albinism is a genetic condition that causes a deficit in the biosynthesis of melanin, a pigment that colours the skin, hair and eyes. While albinism is a rare condition in Europe and North America, affecting one out of about every 17,000 to 20,000 people, it is slightly more widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa, with prevalence rates of 1 in every 5,000 to 15,000 births.[2] Tanzania’s 2012 national census identified 16,477 people with albinism.[3] Today, it is estimated that there are over 18,000 people with albinism in the country.[4]

People with albinism usually have a paler, whiter appearance than their relatives. The deficit of melanin can also result in low vision and an increased vulnerability to sun’s ultra-violet radiation. Consequently, people with albinism living in Sub-Saharan African are about 1,000 times more likely to develop skin cancer than the general population.[5]

As noted by the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, “The complexity and uniqueness of the condition means that their experiences significantly and simultaneously touch on several human rights issues including, but not limited to, discrimination based on color, discrimination based on disability, special needs in terms of access to education and enjoyment of the highest standards of health, harmful traditional practices, violence including killings and ritual attacks, trade and trafficking of body parts for witchcraft purposes, infanticide and abandonment of children.”[6]

In many parts of East Africa, people with albinism are targeted for their body parts, which some believe hold magical powers and bring good fortune. Traditional healers and “sorcerers” have over the years claimed that people with albinism are “ghosts” who never die but merely disappear. In 2009, the International Federation of the Red Cross reported that a senior police officer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s economic capital said that the body of a person with albinism could fetch up to US$75,000.[7]

Over the last decade, Under the Same Sun, a Canadian non-governmental organization working to empower people with albinism, estimates that over 200 people with albinism, many of them children, have been killed in Africa or had their body parts amputated. In Tanzania alone, the group reported that at least 76 people with albinism were killed since 2006.[8]NGOs and local groups reported that criminals have stolen bones from the exhumed remains of people with albinism.[9]

The last reported killing, in February 2015, took place in the region of Geita, in Northwest Tanzania, when men abducted a one-year-old baby with albinism from his mother and “hacked [him] to death.”[10] The men were said to have hit the mother with a machete when she refused to hand over her child, an activist who was with her when she woke up at the hospital told Human Rights Watch.[11]

Faced with increased international scrutiny at the end of the 2000s, Tanzania began to mobilize resources to fight off traffickers and protect people with albinism. Local organizations told us that since 2007, hundreds of children were removed from their families, sometimes with no consultation or consent, and placed in shelters where they were effectively isolated from society.[12]

According to activists who spoke to Human Rights Watch, orders from the government to protect people with albinism were enforced by district commissioners, who oversee security in their respective districts.[13]

“There is an order from the district that says that if anything happens to [a] child with albinism, local leaders would be responsible. It something happens, the whole community will be suspected,” the manager of a local organization working with people with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[14] “Because no one wants trouble in their backyard, there was a big push from the communities to send the children to the shelters.”

The Tanzanian government also moved to combat impunity for ritual crimes, notably by investigating, arresting and prosecuting those who attack or sponsor attacks against people with albinism. In 2015, the Tanzanian government announced a ban on witchdoctors, which came out of a special joint task force between the police and the Tanzanian Albinism Society. As reported by the BBC at the time, then Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe declared there would be a nationwide effort to “arrest them and take them to court” if witch doctors continued their practices.[15] Over 200 suspects, including some allegedly involved in killings of people with albinism, were reportedly arrested by the authorities.[16]

Ten years after the wave of killings and attacks began, these appear to have decreased because of Tanzania’s protective measures and stronger response to ritual crimes and attacks against people with albinism. The temporary holding shelters, however, remain. “The shelters were emergency, temporary solutions. But 10 years is not temporary anymore,” an activist for the rights of people with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[17]

Under international human rights law, children with albinism have the right to live in a family environment. Local NGOs are now making efforts to reunite children and families.[18] The Tanzanian government should do more to reunite families, to combat stigma within communities and ensure that family caregivers have the financial and social support they need to care for these children.

The government’s response should be guided by the best interests of the children involved, and balance the child’s protection and safety with the preservation of the family environment and the enjoyment of other rights. This is particularly important as the government has begun to send some children from the shelters back to their communities.

Key Challenges

Separation from the family and movement restrictions

A girls with albinism seats on a bench in a church
Lightness, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, in a church on Ukerewe Island, Tanzania. @2016 Sacha de Boer

Most of the 13 children and young adults with albinism Human Rights Watch interviewed described how the killings and the ensuing protection measures implemented by the Tanzanian government separated them from their families.

While in many cases, separation was a decision of the parents, five children said they were ordered to go to a shelter or boarding school by government officials (police or district education officers), with no regard for their parents’ consent. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm this assertion from their parents. Once in the shelters or special boarding schools, the children’s freedom of movement was severely curtailed on security grounds.

Marco, an 18-year-old man with albinism, described to Human Rights Watch how his father had been obliged to let him go to the shelter: “When the killings and attacks happened, the government moved me to the Buhangija temporary shelter (Shinyanga region). Police officers came home and spoke to my dad but he refused to take me to Buhangija immediately because he wanted to find out more about it first. The first time, the police left without problems. The second time, they left with me.”

Augustin, a 14-year-old teenager from Shinyanga who was attacked by criminals who cut his left forearms and fingers on his right hand when he was four-year-old, said the district education officer took him to the shelter when he was seven or eight. “He picked me up at a bus stand. At first, no one explained to me why I was being taken there. I was sad at the beginning because I missed my parents. It felt like a punishment. Now, I understand it was to protect me from bad people,” he told Human Rights Watch.[19]

The mother of Victoria, a young woman with albinism from Shinyanga region who stayed for three years in Buhangija, confirmed that parents did not have any choice but to let their children go: “The government wrote a letter to the school Victoria was attending giving notification that children with albinism should be sent to Buhangija [shelter]. We were given a specific date and time by which she had to be there, which was two days later.”

Victoria’s father added: “When the government said we had to bring Victoria to Buhangija, I didn’t know why. There was security here…. But I had to accept the order. I don’t know what would have happened if I had refused.” [20]

NGOs that promote the rights of people with albinism also reported pressure by the government on local schools and the community to send children away to the shelters, by threatening to hold community leaders and members accountable if a child who remained at home was attacked.[21] “For communities, having a child with albinism among them felt like a burden – because you have to provide protection – so the shelters were a good solution to get rid of that burden. You don’t have to respond to police enquiries if something happens,” a national advocate for the rights of people with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[22]

In addition, parents of children with albinism and organizations working with people with albinism told Human Rights Watch that regardless of whether children had been voluntarily or involuntarily placed in shelters, once they were under the protection of the state, they were no longer allowed to go home – even for vacations – without a letter from the village chairperson, approved by the district commissioner, guaranteeing the area’s safety.[23] An NGO worker explained the process to Human Rights Watch:

A boy with albinism looks out of the door of a house
Ivan, a 6-year-old boy with albinism, in his home on Ukerewe Island, Tanzania.@2016 Sacha de Boer

The parents [must] first get a letter from the chairperson of the village and then send it to the district commissioner. The chairperson’s letter should say that the area is safe, that we know the child with albinism is visiting the parents. Without the chairperson’s letter, the district commissioner cannot issue his own letter. Some parents complain and say that they have the right to take the children home. But they generally understand.[24]

Severin, a 14-year-old boy with albinism, said he never went home on vacation while he lived in the shelter. “Once in Buhangija [shelter], we were told we needed a letter to be allowed to go home. My parents didn’t try to get the letter. I felt bad not to be with my family during the vacations because I missed them,” he said.[25]

The parents of Victoria, a young woman with albinism who stayed for three years in Buhangija, who have university degrees, said it was easy to obtain such a letter from the authorities. “When the parents are bringing the letter, it assures the school that there is full security in the family and in the village [for children with albinism],” the mother said. “We wouldn’t have been allowed if we had tried to bring [our daughter] home for good. It was impossible to come out of Buhangija [shelter] without permission. There was full security.”[26]

A representative of an international NGO sponsoring the education of children with albinism told Human Rights Watch that these restrictions also apply to children who have been moved out of shelters and into private schools under their sponsorship program.[27]

As a result of the government’s restrictions, some children had not been home for several years, and some were no longer in contact with their family. In one case, Lucy, a 12-year-old girl with albinism, told Human Rights Watch at the time of the interview that she had not seen her mother in two years and did not know where her family was:

I was 6 years old when I got to Mitindo [shelter in Mwanza]. My mother brought me there because she saw the thieves [people attacking children with albinism] and so she took me to the [shelter]. I was left there alone by my mother and I felt sad because she said she’d come back but did not. She came back only once I went [to a private school, where I am being sponsored by an international NGO] in 2015. She came only for one day to ask who was paying my school fees and asked whether they could pay for my brothers too. I don’t know why she hasn’t come back. We don’t get to speak on the phone. I don’t have her number. So I don’t know about my mother and brothers right now.[28]

According to representatives of local organizations working with people with albinism, another reason why some children placed in shelters no longer see their family is because their parents left no records of where they came from, and tracing the family after several years is difficult.[29]“When some parents brought their children to the shelters, some didn’t leave any contacts and in other cases they did but the phone numbers don’t work,” a local NGO worker told Human Rights Watch.[30] A staff member of another NGO said the temporary holding shelters had become akin to orphanages: “Parents took advantage to drop their kids there. Some children with albinism have been there for four or five years now without seeing their parents.”[31]

The separation from family exerts a heavy emotional toll on young children with albinism. Peter, an 18-year-old man who stayed at the Buhangija for eight years, said his brother was the only one visiting him. “I didn’t want to come [to the shelter]. I was too young. I used to cry all the time. I was a child, I missed my mother, my grandmother and my sister,” he told researchers. “Only my brother would come to visit. I did speak with my mother however, maybe once a month by phone. I felt good talking to her but I missed her.”[32]

Despite the difficulties children with albinism face in the shelters, some, including Severin, said they saw advantages in living among other people with albinism: “My parents did not come to visit at Buhangija. But it was good to be with other children with albinism because we felt we had a right to stay in the world.”

To protect children with albinism from physical attacks, a number of shelters and boarding schools have enforced drastic security measures that deprive children of their freedom of movement.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch visited Buhangija, a former boarding school for students with disabilities transformed into a temporary holding shelter for children with albinism in 2009. At the time of the visit, 226 children were living in the shelter, out of whom 142 were children with albinism (the others were deaf or blind children attending the inclusive school located next to the shelter). At the shelter, Human Rights Watch researchers observed a barren compound made up of five dormitories surrounded by tall walls topped with barbwire.[33] Children with albinism who attend class walk about 100 meters to the school. The rest of their free time is spent within the compound, which has no recreation space or trees to provide for shade, useful in helping people with albinism shield themselves from the sun.

“My first impression of Buhangija was that it was so difficult because we were staying in [the shelter] for the whole day and I’m a very mobile person. So I first felt very bad but as days went by, I got used to it,” Marco, an 18-year-old who left the shelter in 2017 told Human Rights Watch.[34]

The principal of a secondary boarding school that caters to children with and without albinism in Mwanza region told Human Rights Watch that the movement of children with albinism is restricted even beyond the temporary holding shelter, and in the case of his school, because it lacks resources to adequately protect them outside the compound: “The main challenge with people with albinism is protection and safety,” he explained. “I’ve been asking since last year for one district policemen to be on site at night but there isn’t enough [district]money to do that. So, we talk to those students and discourage them from walking around alone, especially at night.”[35]

A 15-year-old girl with albinism attending that secondary boarding school said they are not allowed to leave the dormitories: “The environment here is not good. We are not allowed to stay outside because the school doesn’t have enough security. Classes usually finish at 2:15 p.m. and we have to be in our dormitories by 2:40 p.m.”[36]

NGOs have reported that children with albinism living in these shelters are progressively being sent back to their communities.[37] While this is important progress, it is essential that the process of reinserting children in their communities complies with the best interests of the child principle. Authorities should ensure that the views of children and their families are taken into account, that children have access to education in their community, and that the community has protection systems in place.

Such consultations did not take place in the case of Mariam, a seven-year-old girl from Simiyu region, who was reunited with her 85-year-old grandmother. “After she was removed from Buhangija, the government forced me to take care of Mariam because her mother and father are not providing for her, “recalled the grandmother.” This happened without the government consulting me beforehand…. They just dumped the child on me.”[38] Mariam does not attend the local school because, her grandmother said, she could not afford to buy textbooks.

Stigma and bias in the community

A girls with albinism seets on steps, she is seen from the back
Lightness, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, says that sometimes she would like to be invisible. Ukerewe Island, Tanzania. @2016 Sacha de Boer

Eight children with albinism interviewed by Human Rights Watch recounted how they experienced stigma and bias in their communities, including name-calling.

Josefina, a seven-year-old living with her grandparents in the Shinyanga region, for example, said other children call her “Mbuliwmelu,” which means “white goat” in the local Sukuma language. “When that happens, it makes me feel sad and very angry, but I stay silent,” she said.[39]

In the Simiyu region, the grandmother of Mariam, a seven-year-old young girl with albinism, said Mariam frequently faced similar experiences:

Most people have a negative perception of Mariam because of her color. They don’t even want to welcome Mariam in their home. If they see her, they’ll see her colour and will see that if she spends too much time in the sun she has sores. If she plays, they fear blood will come out of her. They call her “Mbulimwelu”. Mariam is always sad when they call her like that, and sometimes she locks herself in the house and starts crying. In those cases, I just leave her alone.[40]

In some cases, parents have rejected or attacked their own children. Twelve-year-old Lucy, for instance, now lives at a private boarding school after receiving a scholarship from an international NGO. Choking on her tears, she said her mother told her that her father abandoned her prior to sending criminals to try and kill her: “My mother told me that my father refused me. I don’t want to go back [to my hometown] because it is my father who sent the thieves to get me.”[41]

Despite efforts by the government of Tanzania and NGOs to sensitize the general public in recent years, progress remains fragile, especially in rural areas, where people with albinism continue to face stigma and the rejection of their community and, at times, their own families. This can lead to poor self-esteem among young people with albinism, and difficulties in finding work opportunities later in life. An 18-year-old man with albinism told Human Rights Watch in Shinyanga region that he thought people like him have a harder time at finding work: “My life would definitely be different if I was not a person with albinism. If you have a black skin, you have many more opportunities. You can do the physical work, whereas person with albinism have to be careful because of their skin.”[42]

But, as the parents of four children with albinism pointed out, not all communities and families reject children with albinism. “When I had my first child with albinism, I was happy and thought this was normal. My family was happy too and if they weren’t, they didn’t let it show,” their mother said.[43] “It is the choice of God. God is giving. We should agree with them, be close with them,” their father added.[44]

Barriers to education 

A boy with albinism seats in a classroom with other pupils
On his first day of school, students ran away when Sabato, a ten-year-old boy with albinism, walked into the classroom; they thought he was a “ghost.” The government then sent an education officer to the school to address the issue, but some children still do not want to sit too close to him. Ukerewe Island, Tanzania. @2016 Sacha de Boer

“People with albinism don’t get education,” a community organizer with albinism told Human Rights Watch.[45] “Firstly because of their low vision. Teachers don’t know how to deal with that. Secondly because [of lack of] interaction [with others]. There is teasing in school. People with albinism face a lack of interaction with local community. People see us as bad people. They see us as people who can’t contribute because of our bad education or lack of education,” he added.[46]

Ensuring a free, safe and dignified access to education is key to upholding the fundamental human rights of people with albinism and to combatting the stereotypes and stigma that continue to expose them to mistreatments and fatal risks.

Children with albinism face a range of barriers impeding their access to education.

Many families of children with albinism for instance are unable to enroll them in school because they lack sufficient income, or fear that having them walk to school may expose them to dangers.[47] The grandmother of Mariam, the seven-year-old girl with albinism, said she is ready to go school but that she doesn’t have the resources to send her. “I wish for Mariam to become a doctor or a teacher. I don’t want her to be a wife. But it costs money to buy books and everything.”[48]

Children with albinism may also face health risks at school due to their sensitivity to the sun. Laura, a 15-year-old student at a public secondary school, told Human Rights Watch that despite efforts to train teachers on the needs of children with albinism, the school still put the health of children with albinism at risk: “This school is not good. They force us to do activities in the sun. Teachers can also punish you if you say you can’t do activities in the sun. They caned me three times and it was very painful.”[49]

In addition, children with albinism do not always get the inclusive education they should be entitled to. In that respect, the existence of the temporary holding shelters and other special boarding schools, while providing safety and an opportunity to attend classes, promotes segregation and denies children the opportunity to learn with their peers without albinism and to feel included in their communities. As 12-year-old Lucy explained to Human Rights Watch, “It was not nice to only be with children with albinism because we stayed without difference – we must mix.”[50]

Children interviewed by Human Rights Watch also said that schools sometimes fail to provide children with albinism with appropriate accommodations for their low vision.[51] This would include assistive devices, such as magnifiers, enlarged printed material, writing in large letters on the blackboard, and seating children with albinism in the front of the classroom.

Gloria, a 14-year-old student with albinism who wants to become an engineer and build airplanes said she had different experiences in public and private schools: “Before, I was going to a public school. I didn’t like it there because there was no good care. In class, the teachers would be writing with small letters on the blackboard. I’d ask them to make the letters bigger, but they’d say that they can’t,” she told Human Rights Watch. “[The private school] was better. They wrote with big letters on the board – it was easier for me to follow the classes and get good grades.” [52]

Some public schools are taking positive steps. The principal of a Mwanza region public secondary boarding school that caters to the general public as well as to several children with disabilities and children with albinism told Human Rights Watch: “There is no segregation. All students are taught together. We have many special education teachers and they are all trained by the government. I insist that children with albinism sit at the front row and that the teachers write with big letters on the blackboards and that exams and other exercises are printed with big font for them,” he said. Yet, the resources are scarce: “We get some equipment from the ministry, but not enough. We have no monoculars [to help children with albinism see the blackboard], for instance.” [53] 

Lawrence is a shy nine-year-old boy who attends public school and his father is very proud of him. “When we took him to school for the first time, teachers were very aware of albinism, maybe they had been trained,” Charles said.[54] “The only challenge Lawrence faces is his vision. Sometimes he has difficulties reading the blackboard [but] he gets support from the teachers and sometimes they explain or move him to the front. Lawrence does very well at school and sometimes is at the first position.”[55]

It is important that all teachers be familiarized with the specific needs of students with albinism and that the schools be provided with adequate resources to ensure they can achieve their full educational potential. More efforts are also needed to sensitize family-members and communities about albinism, to ensure that children with albinism in Tanzania can thrive both inside and outside the classroom.


[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Regional Action Plan on albinism,” https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Albinism/Pages/AlbinismInAfrica.aspx(accessed January 25, 2019).

[2] United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, A/HRC/37/57/Add.1, January 18-March 23, 2018, para. 12, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/364/15/PDF/G1736415.pd… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[3] Tanzania’s last national census took place in 2012; Ibid, para. 15.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lekalakala, P., Khammissa, R., Kramer, B., Ayo-Yusuf, O., Lemmer, J. and Feller, L., “Oculocutaneous Albinism and Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Skin of the Head and Neck in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Journal of Skin Cancer, August 12, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549604/ (accessed January 25, 2019).

[6] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism,” https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/albinism/pages/iealbinism.aspx(accessed January 25, 2019).

[7] 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,” 2009, p.5, https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Publications/general/177800-Albinos-Report-E… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[8] Under the Same Sun, “People with Albinism and the Universal Periodic Review of Tanzania,” undated, para 3, https://uprdoc.ohchr.org/uprweb/downloadfile.aspx?filename=2699&file=Cov… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[9] AFP, “Albino attacks drop in Tanzania, but grave vandalism rises: NGO,” News24, November 16, 2017, https://www.news24.com/Africa/News/albino-attacks-drop-in-tanzania-but-g… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[10] Nicola Bartlett, “Albino baby hacked to death in Tanzania’s latest witchcraft related death,“ Mirror, February 18, 2015, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/albino-baby-hacked-death-tanzan… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[11] Human Rights Watch interview with community activist (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[12] Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[13] Tanzania is a republic made up of 31 regions and 169 districts. Each district operates a security committee, headed by the district commissioner, in charge of enforcing laws.

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO workers, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[15] BBC NEWS, “Tanzania bans witchdoctors over albino attacks,” BBC, January 13, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30794831(accessed January 25, 2019); David Smith, “Tanzania bans witchdoctors in attempt to end albino killings,” The Guardian, January 14, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/tanzania-bans-witchdoctors… (accessed January 25, 2019). The practice of witchcraft has been against the law since the 1928 Witchcraft Act, https://mtega.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Witchcraft-Act-Cap18-as-ame… (accessed January 28, 2018).

[16] BBC NEWS, “Tanzania albino murders: ‘More than 200 witchdoctors’ arrested,” BBC, March 12, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31849531 (accessed January 25, 2019).

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with community activist (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[18] “Just Kids 2016/2017 – The girl with the white skin”, video clip, YouTube, February 13, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQZgW8DUCs0 (accessed January 25, 2019).

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Augustin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[20] Human Rights Watch interviews with A.Y. and Z.M. (pseudonym), the parents of Victoria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with community activist (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[23] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017; Severin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017; and A.Y. and Z.M. (names withheld), Tanzania, July 2017.

[24] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representative (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Severin (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[26] Human Rights Watch interviews with A.Y. and Z.M. (names withheld), parents of Victoria, Tanzania, July 2017.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO representative (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[28] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of three NGOs working in this field, names withheld, Tanzania, July 2017.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with a representative of one NGO working in this field (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[31] Human Rights Watch interview with a representative of one NGO working in this field (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Mwanzi (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Marco Ndimo (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with A.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with J.P.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[37] Jesse Mikofu, “Children living with albinism start reuniting with families,” The Citizen, March 20, 2018, https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/News/Children-living-with-albinism-start-re… (accessed January 25, 2019).

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Maria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Mwanzi (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with A.Y. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Z.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with L.A. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO workers (pseudonyms), Tanzania, July 2017.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Laura (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch separate interviews with Gloria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017; and Laura (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Gloria (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with A.M. (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Charles (pseudonym), Tanzania, July 2017.

[55] Ibid.

Source: “It Felt Like A Punishment”: Growing Up with Albinism in Tanzania