Alan Cowell, New York Times, February 20, 2015
The boy was just a year old when five men with machetes snatched him from his home. Two days later, the police found his body with the arms and legs lopped off.
The reason for the atrocity? The baby’s pale skin marked him as an albino, and, where he lived in southeast Africa, albinos are at risk because their body parts are used for witchcraft. They also face discrimination and are often shunned as outcasts.
The abduction, killing and mutilation of the child, Yohana Bahati, in the Geita region of northwestern Tanzania last weekend sent a chill of revulsion across the globe.
“Violence and discrimination against people with albinism must be halted,” the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a statement from his office in Geneva on Thursday, calling the killing “horrific.”
But the fear persists that, with Tanzanian elections set for October, the risk to the country’s albinos will grow as politicians turn to witchcraft to enhance their prospects.
“This is the year of elections in Tanzania and, as some analysts have suggested, it could be a dangerous year for people living with albinism,” Alvaro Rodriguez, the United Nations’ ranking official in Tanzania, warned on Wednesday.
Since 2000, according to United Nations estimates, 75 albinos have been killed and the frequency of attacks on them seems to be increasing. In the past two months, three such attacks have been reported. In December, a 4-year-old girl, Pendo Emmanuelle Nundi, was taken by an armed gang. She has not yet been found.
Witch doctors will pay as much as $75,000 for a complete set of albino body parts, according to a recent report from the Red Cross.
Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition that causes an absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes and is often linked by researchers to inbreeding. It is particularly prevalent in Tanzania, affecting one person in 1,400, compared with one in 20,000 in the West.