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Endangered albinos in Malawi risk ‘systematic extinction’


albino_3165217bA recent increase in attacks of persons living with albinism in Malawi has left them living in constant fear of extinction over time if nothing is done, a United Nations (UN) expert said at the weekend.

Ikponwosa Ero, the United Nations Independent Expert on the rights of persons with albinism, at the end of an official visit to Malawi, said the attacks faced by albinos in Malawi is “an emergency, a crisis disturbing in its proportion”.

According to police reports, 65 cases have been recorded since late 2014, and at least two further critical incidents reportedly occurred during Ero’s visit ,which she says, constitutes a danger to all persons living with the defect since Malawi has a relatively small population size.

“The frequent involvement of close relatives in cases of attacks is highly disturbing, and persons with albinism are unable to trust even those who are supposed to care for and protect them,” Ero said.

The UN expert called for an urgent and coordinated response from the government, civil society and development partners while acknowledging a response plan launched in 2015 by the Malawi government against the attacks.

She also recommended a higher penalty for attackers to avoid an early return of suspects ,which will increase the fear in the albinos.

“Although the amendment of relevant legislation is required, more immediate measures are also necessary such as a judicial direction that cases be handled only by professional magistrates and through the ongoing revision of the Sentencing Guidelines,” she said.

Ero noted that discrimination against persons with albinism has a long history in Malawi and well rooted in beliefs, as well as harmful traditional and cultural practices, “including that persons with albinism do not die but simply disappear, and the practice of infanticide at birth on the pretext that the baby was stillborn”.

Albinism in humans is a congenital disorder characterised by the complete or partial absence of skin, hair and eyes pigment due to absence or defect of tyrosinase which helps in the production of melanin.

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