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Africa: Myth of Magical AIDS Cure Fuels Sexual Assault of Albino Women

The pervasive myth that having sex with a person with albinism — a condition in which the body does not produce any melanin — can cures AIDS has made rape and sexual assault of women and girls with albinism a commonplace threat in places like Malawi.

An Amnesty International report released this week titled “We Are Not Animals to Be Hunted and Sold” exposes the pervasive violence against albino people in Malawi, though the killing, kidnapping, and rape of albinos have long been common in neighboring countries like Tanzania, as well. These nations have an outsized population of albino people, whose appearance in particularly striking in black villages. Amnesty estimates the albino population of Malawi to be between 7,000 and 10,000.

The study notes that violence against albinos is on the rise in Malawi, where they are “persecuted by people who wish to acquire their body parts believing that they have magical properties and attract good luck.” Between November 2014 and the present, the nation has documented 18 albino killings and five disappearances.

The report notes that the dangers facing albino women are even higher than that for men. “Women also face the danger of rape and sexual abuse as a result of beliefs that having sex with a person with albinism will cure HIV/AIDS,” the report reads. Predatory men “would begin a relationship with a woman with albinism with the intention of killing her or ‘selling’ her for body parts,” the report continues. It is also commonplace for catcalling men to yell the word “cure” at albino women, an indication they seek sex with them because they are HIV positive.

Amnesty is clear to note that they were unable to confirm any incidents of rape of albino women, though they attribute this to cultural factors. “A medical doctor told Amnesty International researchers that generally in Malawian society a woman is blamed for rape, making it more difficult for a woman from a group that experiences extreme marginalization to report the crime,” the report notes. “Amnesty International… believes that such violations may be taking place without being reported because of victims’ fear of stigmatization.”

In 2011, Reuters cited activists supporting albino Tanzanians stating that they had seen “many” cases of albino women and girls raped by HIV positive men looking for a cure. “There is belief that if you have relations with a girl with albinism, you will cure AIDS. So there are many girls with albinism who are being raped in this country because of this belief, which is a false belief,” Peter Ash, founder and director of the advocacy group Under The Same Sun (UTSS), told Reuters. “(It is believed) a person with albinism is a curse. They are from the devil, they are not human, they do not die, they simply disappear.”

The BBC cited a Kenyan activist this week noting that he had seen an increase in the number of albino persons carrying HIV after being raped for their magical properties.

The rate of albino murders, hackings, rapes, and kidnappings began to increase in Malawi in 2015, shortly after Tanzania took the measure of banning witch doctors entirely due to their trafficking in the limbs, breasts, teeth, and bones of albinos. The ban followed months of government officials calling on those who seek to purchase albino body parts — mostly among the nation’s wealthiest as the body parts fetch high prices — to relent. Even six months after enacting the ban, Tanzanian officials found the need to warn politiciansnot to seek to purchase albino body parts to practice witchcraft with before national legislative elections.