Persecution of people with albinism

Awareness poster against the prejudice of albinos in Africa

A child with albinism

Persecution of people with albinism (sometimes abbreviated PWA[1]) is based on the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers. Such superstition is present especially in some parts of the African Great Lakes region, it has been promulgated and exploited by witch doctors and others who use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user (muti or medicine murder).[2]

As a result, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and desecrated. At the same time, people with albinism have also been ostracised and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck. The persecutions of people with albinism take place mostly in Sub-Saharan African communities, especially among East Africans.[3]:81

Albinism is a genetically inherited condition which is very rare and, worldwide, affects approximately one in twenty thousand people.[4] Although rare in the western world, albinism is quite common in sub-Saharan Africa, likely as a result of consanguinity.[3] Both parents, who may or may not be albinos themselves, must carry the gene if it is to be passed on to the child. Albinism occurs in both males and females and is not specific to any race or ethnic group. Statistics show that fifty percent of albinistic people in Tanzania have a known albinistic relative,[3]:80 although very few understand or are educated about the medical and genetic causes of this condition. Many believe it is a punishment from God or bad luck, and that their "disease" could be contagious, which is often the view of even members of the medical and professional community. These misconceptions, coupled with the lack of education, are some of the key reasons that albinism is so heavily persecuted. This lack of knowledge about people with albinism means that folktales and superstition in the name of witchcraft take the place of medical and scientific facts in the minds of many native Africans, with and without albinism, which in turn has major effects on the social integration of albinistic people into African society. Ninety-eight percent of albinos die by the age of forty for reasons which could easily be prevented.[5]

Current statistics of persecution of albinistic people

A report was released on 1 April 2014 by the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, office of the Canadian charity Under the Same Sun. Titled Reported Attacks of Persons with Albinism, the document reviews 180 countries and lists 129 recent killings and 181 other attacks, all within 23 African countries. These attacks include mutilation, violence, violation of graves, and cases of asylum-seeking.[6]


In Tanzania, albinos represent one in every 1429 births, a much higher rate than in any other nation. According to Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer, an albino member of parliament, there are 6977 officially registered albinos in Tanzania.[7] However, it is believed that there may be up to 17000 undocumented.[8] A number of albinos have migrated to the Dar es Salaam area, as they feel safer in an urban setting. Tanzania is thought to have the largest population of albinos in Africa.[9] Albinos are especially persecuted in Shinyanga and Mwanza, where witch doctors have promoted a belief in the potential magical and superstitious properties of albinos' body parts. There are further issues which arise when there is lack of education about albinism. Fathers often suspect the mother of the albino child of infidelity with a white man or that the child is the ghost of a European colonist.[3] This can cause immense strain on families and relationships. An albino child is often seen as a bad omen and treated as unwanted. Many albino babies become victims of infanticide due to these superstitious views.


After 2015 when Tanzania enacted tougher steps against violence against albinos, Malawi has seen a "steep upsurge in killings" with 18 reported killings since November 2014, and the likely toll being higher because of missing persons and unreported murders.[10] President Peter Mutharika has formed a committee to study the situation.[10] Additionally, Malawi has faced an immense amount of graves belonging to Albino people being robbed in more recent history. In 2017, police found at least 39 cases of illegal removals of the bodies of Albino people from their graves or having body parts removed from their corpses.[11] Another phenomenon that has also begun to occur is an increase in religious leaders, police, and government officials being charged and convicted of slaying Albino people in Malawi. As of 2018, there has been speculation President Mutharika making moves toward implementing the death penalty to convicted murderers of Albino people as a way to significantly decrease the attacks being perpetrated, putting fear into those who do it for business or religious purposes and making it substantially less acceptable by witch doctors and other people who follow superstitions. There is a death penalty in place, but it has not been put in to use since the government changed to democracy in 1994, and convicts who are given the death penalty have sat in prison for life instead.[12] The president sees this as a way to tighten judicial control and work to eradicate the hate crimes committed against Albinos.