Debunking albinism myths—Part 2

The media has a responsibility to change the narrative for killings of people with albinism by avoiding discussing them as cultural practices and economic activities. The current narrative has helped spread the myths, as people are more inclined to engage in this activity, which makes it more dangerous for people with albinism.

We need to start reporting these killings as criminal activities that may result to death sentences hence reducing the violence. Changing how we speak is also important because language matters. The use of the word albino is both insensitive and disrespectful. We need to start calling them people with albinism.

The media also need to focus on counter narratives that challenge the stigma against people with albinism. There has been a lot of debate on how to protect people with albinism, and some people have even suggested putting them in protective camps. Although these protective camps may achieve the desired protection for their right to life and security, this measure would restrict their rights to freedom of movement and family life. We need to ensure that the measures put in place are not restrictive as well as avoid isolating them further from our society.

We also need to start regulating traditional medicines as well as witchcraft because the secretive nature of this practice provides a conducive environment for the assailants to carry out their criminalities undetected.

In the recent report, ‘End violence against people with Albinism: Towards effective criminal justice for people with albinism in Malawi’, Amnesty International singled out the justice system as being problematic to the attainment of justice for victims of the killings. It was reported that only 30 percent of the reported cases against people with albinism have been concluded and to date, only one murder and one attempted murder have been prosecuted successfully. These low conviction rates only act as an encouragement to would be assailants.

The low prosecution and conviction rates have been mainly due to reckless unprofessional investigations on the part of the police as well as incompetent prosecution of suspects.

It is the responsibility of the authorities to provide security agencies with adequate resources to enable them adequately to investigate the killings and deploy assets that can interrupt and disrupt the criminal syndicates hunting the albinos. One way of disrupting these syndicates is the deployment of Covert Human Intelligence Sources commonly known as (CHIS) to infiltrate criminal gangs in our communities. These assets are usually individuals from the localities who are provided with monetary incentives in exchange of information that can lead to the arrests of suspects as well as the disruption of potential killings of people with albinism.

It is imperative to acknowledge that investigating these murders become more challenging considering the nature of the suspects involved. There have been reported cases of fathers betraying their children’s trust and selling them off like unwanted baggage. Mothers are also conspiring to traffic their own kids to senseless deaths.  The involvement of family members in the killings have resulted in making the investigations complex as the families are in a far much better position to cover up the killings.

The Malawi government also needs to start investing in highly trained prosecutors who can competently prosecute the albino killings. The current trend has been the continued use of police officers as prosecutors and majority of these prosecutors have no practical legal training. These incompetent prosecutors have struggled to make sound submissions which have led to acquittals and well as convictions on lesser charges.

The trafficking of body parts of victims must urgently be addressed, starting with awareness campaigns and debunking the myths that motivate the killings of people with albinism. Communities must effectively be educated about albinism to demystify this genetic skin condition. Law enforcement and criminal justice reform alone cannot work if the attitudes of the society remain the same. n

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