Swift significant progress for persons with albinism in Malawi— and still so far to go prevent them from fully enjoying rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Malawi ratified in 2009, are removed.
Violence against persons with albinism in Malawi has been escalating in recent years at an alarming rate. Fueled by the widespread belief that their body parts possess magical properties that can bring luck and wealth, persons with albinism are being abducted, killed and maimed, their body parts sold to traditional healers for large sums of money. Even after death, persons with albinism cannot rest in peace; grave robbers exhume their bodies to steal and sell their bones.
With insufficient law enforcement capacity to monitor, document, or respond to the increase in violence, perpetrators have enjoyed a climate of near impunity while persons with albinism are left in fear and vulnerable.
Bonface Massa, national coordinator of Associations of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM), the only organization representing persons with albinism in Malawi, is working to ensure that this crisis is addressed, that persons with albinism are brought into the light, and that the barriers that prevent them from fully enjoying rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Malawi ratified in 2009, are removed.
As a highly marginalized, isolated group, there is very little data on the current situation of persons with albinism. With a grant from the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, APAM first researched baseline data to illustrate the scale of existing harassment and violence. APAM worked closely with law enforcement to document incidents of violence, intimidation, abduction, and murder involving persons with albinism. Using this data, they approached the government, advocating for greater protections for persons with albinism.
Together with the Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi (FEDOMA) and Disabled Women in Africa (DIWA), APAM advocated for the successful amendment of the Penal Code and the Anatomy Act. The amended laws criminalize and give stiffer sentences for abductions, killings, and other acts of violence against persons with albinism.
APAM is now a key interlocutor on issues of albinism in Malawi — evidenced by their inclusion in the national technical committee on persons with albinism. APAM has also established strong networks with other human rights organizations and policy makers. They have mobilized persons with albinism and the general public, raising awareness among their members and the community about albinism and shattering myths and superstitions about it. They have also revealed challenges that persons with albinism are facing in getting access to health, education, justice, and livelihood in addition to the physical threats they face.
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition which occurs worldwide regardless of ethnicity or gender. It most commonly results in the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes. Albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically. The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalization and social exclusion.
– UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)