DAR ES SALAAM – Tanzanian police have found the mutilated body of a 1-year-old albino boy whose abduction renewed calls for tougher action to stop the killing of albinos for their body parts, which are prized in black magic.
An armed gang snatched Yohana Bahati from his mother at their home in northwestern Tanzania’s Geita region on Sunday, a month after the government announced a nationwide ban on witch doctors, who are accused of encouraging attacks on albinos.
He was the second albino child in two months to be abducted in the Lake Zone of Tanzania. A 4-year-old girl who was kidnapped in December is still missing.
More than 70 albinos, who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, have been murdered in the East African nation in the past decade, according to U.N. figures, many hacked to death and body parts removed to make charms and spells that witch doctors claim bring good luck and wealth.
Joseph Konyo, Geita police commander, said Wednesday that police had found Yohana’s remains on Tuesday and were still hunting his killers. Police are holding the boy’s father, who was nearby at the time of the attack. “We are still determined to find whoever killed this young boy and bring them to justice. It doesn’t matter how long it takes,” Konyo said.
He said Yohana’s two siblings, who are also albinos, were under police protection. His mother, 30-year-old Esther Bahati, who was slashed with a machete as she tried to protect her son, is in a critical condition in a hospital.
Vicky Ntetema, executive director of Under The Same Sun, a Canadian nonprofit working to defend albinos, said the boy’s body was found in a village just kilometers from his home. “Police found the body in Biharamulo Forest Reserve yesterday with his arms and legs hacked off,” she said. “When will Tanzanians stop believing in witch doctors who fuel the killings of persons with albinism for their body parts?”
The United Nations’ resident coordinator for Tanzania, Alvaro Rodriguez, condemned the latest killing, warning that 2015, as an election year, could be dangerous for people with albinism. Analysts believe some politicians seek support from witch doctors or traditional healers ahead of elections to improve their luck and seek albino body parts to be used in charms.
Rodriguez said Tanzania is trying to crack down on these attacks but there is still a high degree of impunity. “Much more must be done to put an end to these heinous crimes and to protect this vulnerable segment of the population,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Attacks against people with albinism can never be justified — not by culture, tradition or religion.”
Ntetema added, “When will people in my country realize that organs of persons with albinism will never make one wealthy, successful and win elections?”
Albinism is a congenital disorder that affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide, according to medical authorities. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects an estimated 1 Tanzanian in 1,400.
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