The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working with authorities in Burundi to better protect the country’s albino children in the wake of a brutal crime in which a six-year-old girl was shot and dismembered, apparently in the mistaken belief of some locals that the body parts have magical qualities.
Media reports say the girl was shot dead at the weekend in Burundi’s eastern province of Ruyigi, close to the border with Tanzania, and then her head and limbs were removed by her attackers. It is the latest in a series of killings of albinos in the region and follows the murder of a 14-year-girl in early September.
Albinos have long suffered discrimination and marginalization across Africa’s Great Lakes region, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) sponsored a workshop in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in August in a bid to improve their rights.
Increasingly, however, albinos are also being targeted for assassination because of rumours spread by witch doctors that their blood can be used to prospect for gold and their body parts can be used to increase a catch of fish.
Olalekan Ajia, a communication specialist for UNICEF in Burundi, told UN Radio today that the rumours can be traced to Tanzania.
“Now the Government of Tanzania quickly took action and made it a capital crime for anybody to kill albinos,” he said. “And the witch doctors and so on moved on to Burundi, where there’s a lot of poverty, and got some people who are completely dislocated mentally and psychologically to begin to hunt for albinos.”
Mr. Ajia said Burundian authorities have responded swiftly to the recent wave of attacks, passing laws similar to those in Tanzania and offering a safe house in at least one province for albino children. No one has been arrested over the weekend attack, but two male suspects relating to an earlier case have been captured and taken to court.
UNICEF, which has strongly condemned the attacks, is working with the governors of some Burundian provinces to protect the albinos, provide them with non-food items and ensure the children can still attend school.
“And we are working with [the] Government to raise awareness around the country to explode the myth that using body parts or blood can make anybody rich,” according to Mr. Ajia.
He noted that many albinos remain extremely fearful about their safety and are asking the Government to do more to protect them.