The rescue of a four-year-old albino girl in southwestern Madagascar last August brought to the island country’s media a story that, even today, is going largely unnoticed: a mysterious wave of kidnappings and murders of people with albinism.
The authorities found Eliane – that is the name of the little girl – in Toliara, a district located hundreds of kilometers from her hometown.
The girl’s neighbors celebrated her return. Now, Eliane has recovered a normal life next to her parents, but not all albino kidnappings in Madagascar end with a happy ending.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) launched the voice of alarm last marchwhen he found a increase in the number of kidnappings and attacks against Malagasy albinos.
Then, Unicef urged the authorities to take “immediate steps” to “protect people with albinism.”
But in Madagascar this is a thorny issue, with many unanswered questions. The motive for these assaults is not even clearly known.
URBAN LEGENDS AND WITCHCRAFT
News of kidnappings of albino people often does not reach the authorities or the local media.
According to the UN, Malagasy security forces recorded from 2020 until the middle of this year at least 45 attacks against people with albinism, including kidnappings, mutilations and murders. Almost all the victims were children.
The trends are even more worrying: attacks in 2022 have doubled compared to 2021.
“We do not have an official figure because almost all the cases occur in the most remote rural areas and the victims do not usually report them,” the general director of the Police for the Atsimo-Andrefana region (southwest), Willy Martial Ranoarison, told EFE. where more kidnappings of albinos have been detected.
It is a problem that, despite its seriousness, is going unnoticed.
For this reason, a local civil society group decided to take action.
”Our investigations have allowed us to discover that albino people are being kidnapped for mystical reasons”, explains to EFE the president of the Atsimo-Andrefana civil society organizations for people with disabilities, Patrick Ramarson.
”According to urban legends, the eyes of albino people enhance the talismans carried by thieves, allowing them to walk in front of the police without being seen. Thus, the kidnappers sell their victims to other criminals, ”he adds.
Asked about these findings, Ranoarison rejects the voices that point to the existence of a network specialized in kidnapping albinos.
In addition, the policeman indicates that many kidnappers decide to release their hostages because, often, they do not find potential buyers.
POVERTY, A FOOD FOR CRIME
The calm of the police authorities contrasts with the seriousness of the problem described by local organizations and UN reports.
This wave of attacks has reached such a dimension that “People with albinism in the most remote areas of southern Madagascar live in perpetual fear”indicated the UN expert on the rights of albino people, Muluka-Anne Miti-Drummond, who visited the country last September.
The researcher defended the findings of the Atsimo-Andrefana civil society.
”False beliefs, myths and superstitions that the eyes of people with albinism can bring good luck and wealth have triggered many attacks, especially directed against children in the Malagasy south, where poverty is widespread”said Muti-Drummond.
This comes against a backdrop of crisis for many Malagasy people, after an intense drought and several cyclones destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people in the south of the country.
At the beginning of 2021, more than 1.4 million people in southern Madagascar were starving due to water scarcity, the UN World Food Program (WFP) warned at the time.
Without rain and modern irrigation systems, farmers’ efforts were for nothing, while ranchers lost many animals due to lack of green pastures or watering holes.
“Poverty is a breeding ground for the propagation of dangerous beliefs, as well as attacks and other harmful practices in the hope of obtaining wealth”Muti-Drummond noted.
The UN and civil society groups agree on the importance of acting quickly.
”Whether it’s for people with albinism or people with disabilities, the government isn’t doing enough. Albino people continue to be victims and nothing has been done to guarantee their protection”, concludes Ramarson.
Madagascar is not the only country in sub-Saharan Africa where albinos suffer persecution.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has collected complaints in at least 28 countriesbut acknowledges that it does not have sufficient data to establish the magnitude of the problem.
In any case, albinos have not stood idly by and throughout the continent, from Liberia to Tanzania, they have created organizations to defend their rights.
(with information from EFE)
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