The mutilated body of an albino toddler has been found in Tanzania with his limbs hacked off, the latest such killing for body parts for witchcraft, the police said on Wednesday.
The United Nations condemned the attack, warning that with general elections looming – when people may turn to witchcraft to boost political campaigns – albinos in Tanzania were facing a “dangerous year.”
The one-year old boy, Yohana Bahati, was seized by men with machetes from his home in northern Tanzania’s Chato district overnight on Saturday, with police finding the body on Tuesday afternoon in a forest area close to his home.
“His arms and legs were hacked off,” regional police chief Joseph Konyo said.
The baby’s mother Ester Jonas, aged 30, is in a serious state in hospital with machete cuts to her face and arms after she tried to protect her baby.
The killing follows the kidnapping in December of a four-year-old albino girl also in northern Tanzania. Multiple arrests were made but the child has not been found.
UN country chief Alvaro Rodriguez said he was “deeply concerned by the abductions of these two young children,” saying that at least 74 albinos have been murdered in the east African country since 2000.
The UN repeated its fears that attacks against albinos could be linked to looming general and presidential elections in October 2015, leading political campaigners to turn to influential sorcerers for help.
“These attacks are accompanied by a high degree of impunity, and while Tanzania has made efforts to combat the problem, much more must be done to put an end to these heinous crimes and to protect this vulnerable segment of the population,” he added.
“This is the year of elections in Tanzania and, as some analysts have suggested, it could be a dangerous year for people living with albinism.”
Albino body parts sell for around $600 in Tanzania, with an entire corpse fetching $75 000, according to the UN.
Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. It affects one Tanzanian in 1 400, often as a result of inbreeding, experts say. In the West, it affects just one person in 20 000.
The child’s father, who was nearby during the attack, is being questioned by police.
Tanzania has banned witch doctors in a bid to curb a rising wave of attacks and murders of albinos whose body parts are prized for witchcraft after a four-year-old albino girl was kidnapped from her home by an armed gang.
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 for black magic purposes, according to United Nations figures. Many were hacked to death and had their body parts removed.
The government has accused witch doctors of fuelling these killings by luring people to bring albino body parts which they grind up with herbs, roots and sea water to make charms and spells that they claim bring good luck and wealth.
The nationwide ban come less than a week after UN fficials urged the government to step up efforts to end the discrimination and attacks after a girl was abducted last month from her home in northern Mwanza region. She is still missing.
Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe said the government has formed a national task force involving the police and members of the Tanzania Albino Society to arrest and prosecute witch doctors defying the ban.
“We have identified that witch doctors are the ones who ask people to bring albino body parts to create magical charms which they claim can get them rich. We will leave no stone unturned until we end these evil acts,” Chikawe told reporters.
Chikawe said the operation would begin in two weeks time, initially targeting five regions, including Mwanza, Tabora, Shinyanga, Simiyu and Geita, where the government believes attacks against albinos are most prevalent. The operation would be expanded to other areas later.
He said the task force will also have the mandate to review previous court cases of albino attacks and killings to gather new evidence and further research the motive for attacks. The Director of Public Prosecution would prioritise these cases.
The government has previously been widely criticised for failing to act to stop these macabre murders.
The Tanzania Albino Society welcomed the move, saying it would help end the worsening plight of albinos.
“I believe we can work together to end these acts of pure evil,” said spokesperson Ernest Kimaya.
But Rashid Mauwa, a traditional healer from the Bunju area of Dar es Salaam, said he feared the ban would lead to victimisation of healers of whom only a few engage in witchcraft.
“I am not engaging in any witchcraft. I am only using traditional herbs to help people who do not respond to conventional medicines. Why am I being punished?” he said.
Albinism is a congenital disorder which affects about one in 20 000 people worldwide, according to medical authorities. It is, however, more common in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting an estimated one Tanzanian in 1 400.