UN condemns abuse of Tanzania’s albino children

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 9:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 9:23pm


A UN expert has condemned the abuse of albino children in government care centres in Tanzania, a country where many are killed and their body parts sold as lucky charms.

At least 74 albinos have been murdered in the east African country since 2000, the UN said.

After a spike in killings in 2009, the government placed albino youngsters in children's homes in an effort to defend them, said Alicia Londono, of the UN human rights office.

The UN is now examining whether some of the institutions are engaging in segregation by forcibly removing from their homes hundreds of children with albinism who are at risk of being killed, mutilated or sexually abused, she said.

"It was a protective measure, and welcome at the beginning," said Londono. "But the conditions are appalling. They are overcrowded [and] hygiene conditions are very poor. There are abuses going on in these centres, cases of sexual abuse."

People with the genetic condition are often referred to in Tanzania as ghosts, or zero zero, which in Swahili means someone who is less than human. Witch doctors often lead brutal attacks to use albino body parts in potions they claim bring riches.

Out of the country's 23 children's homes, 13 host albino youngsters, according to UN figures.

Londono said that all too often, the children were forcibly removed from their families and lose all contact with them.

Segregating them from the community was not the answer, she said, but shutting the centres would put the children at the mercy of sorcerers and traffickers. Instead, it was crucial to improve conditions there, she said.

Londono noted that the perpetrators of crimes against albinos were rarely punished in Tanzania or in other countries in Africa's Great Lakes region.

Her office says it has documented 151 attacks on people with albinism, about half of them murders, in Tanzania since 2000.

A hereditary genetic condition that causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, albinism affects one Tanzanian in 1,400, often as a result of inbreeding, said Londono. In the West, it affects just one person in 20,000. Albino body parts sell for around US$600 in Tanzania, she added.

Additional reporting by Associated Press