Albinism in many parts of Africa, including the East African country of Malawi, spells out automatic stigmatization and an increased risk of persecution.
Persons with Albinism in Malawi face a lot of fear in their daily lives, having to restrict their movements to a bare minimum, according to UN reports.
Most distressing of all, is that many attacks against Albinos are said to be orchestrated by family members, who contract or collaborate with kidnappers and ritualists to dismember the Albinos.
Albino body parts are highly priced by native doctors and ritualists for fetish notions that they hold magical and medicinal tendencies.
Malawi as a country has a ratio of one in 130 people with albinism, giving a total of above 134,000 people living with the condition. Of these, according to the United Nations,40 percent (about 53,000) are of primary and secondary school age.
The United Nations however noted that attending school potentially puts them in grave danger, as hostility against albinos in Malawi increases.
In some communities, according to the United Nations, Albinos are attacked or even killed for their body parts which are erroneously believed to possess magical powers.
“In the last five years, over 160 cases of killings, and other human rights violations against persons with albinism have been reported in the country, with similar cases also occurring in neighbouring Tanzania and Mozambique”, the UN states.
Maria Jose Torres, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, the most senior UN humanitarian official in Malawi said: “Some parents are so afraid of sending their children with albinism to school that fewer children with albinism access education,” .
She continued that, with many of them visually impaired, their education choices are severely limited by a lack of schools offering special needs education.
“For any child, anywhere, education is not a luxury. It’s a necessity and fundamental right regardless of their status”, Torres emphasized. “Educating girls and children with albinism helps us leave no one behind.”
“Education creates entrepreneurs, a skilled workforce, more consumers and more prosperous communities. A healthy, educated, empowered adolescent girl, or child with albinism has the unique potential to break the cycle of poverty for herself, her family and her country.”
The UN, in the bid to reduce lack of education among albinos while protecting them support a collaboration between community schools, the communities, and the Norwegian Government.
The program is part of the UN managed JPGE(Joint Program On Girls Education). JPGE engages schools, the local community and the police in efforts to end violence against girls and children with albinism.
JPGE and the UN teach the children to protect themselves; they are armed with an alarm device for alerting people and security authorities when attacks occur.
According to the UN, since the introduction of the program, which supports schools in Dodza, Salime and Mangochi districts of Malawi, the rate of school dropouts have declined from 16% to about 5 percent.
The program further provides free school meals, encouraging attendance of children from poor backgrounds. The UN also lists access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services as a key focus of JPEG, as part of efforts to drastically reduce teen pregnancies.
Many African communities still hold superstitious beliefs on the rare condition, regarding it as a curse. Albinism, however is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition present at birth. It is found in both sexes, regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world.Albinism further handicaps many of those with the condition, rendering them vulnerable to skin cancer from harsh sunlight, sunstroke, poor eyesight and damaged skin.