IN a remote village of Kafutanika in Chasefu district of Eastern Zambia lives Manuel Gondwe (not his real name), a father to a twelve-year-old girl with albinism.
His daughter is among the two children with albinism in his family. His older son with albinism had died at a young age, leaving him with only one child. Mr. Gondwe is concerned about the welfare of his child, as stories of children with albinism being attacked or killed in this part of Zambia are rapidly increasing.
In this interview, he talks about how he has to walk his daughter to and from school for fear of her being attacked or harmed.
He says in the nearby village, a boy with albinism was killed in what is alleged to be a ritual killing.
“Word around the village is that our children with albinism are not safe; a boy with albinism was recently kidnapped and later killed,” he said.
Attacks on people with albinism in this part of Zambia are very common and are associated with rituals, as people believe body parts of people with albinism have the power to make one wealthy and increase fortune.
Another parent who spoke on conditions of anonymity in Lundazi district said the attacks on children with albinism are an infringement on children’s rights.
Bupe Chalwe (not her real name) said the insecurities surrounding children with albinism have curtailed children’s right to education, health, and freedom of association.
She said her daughter, who has albinism, dropped out of school in the 9th grade for fear of being victimized and attacked on her way to school.
“Most of our children walk long distances to access education, and because of the vulnerability that people with albinism have, we were worried my daughter could be a target. Even though she is now 18 years old, she still does not feel safe,” she said.
Her daughter, whose identity is withheld, says that apart from receiving threats from the community about her condition, she faced ridicule from her friends because they never knew anything about albinism.
Meanwhile, school authorities in Eastern Province are now on high alert and are doing everything to ensure that children with albinism are protected.
Chandeka Primary School Headteacher, Pathias Mcheleka, says his school has put in place safeguards to ensure that pupils with albinism enjoy the same rights as other pupils. He further mentions that he is aware of the ritual killings involving people with albinism in Chasefu district, and his school will ensure that it protects all its learners from the practice.
“We have instructed our learners with albinism to always walk home with other pupils to avoid any eventualities from taking place. We are very alert to the threats that such children are receiving,” he said.
While attacks on children with albinism are common in rural communities, parents in urban areas are equally concerned about this practice. A trip to Lusaka district to further investigate how attacks and killings of children with albinism are hampering the rights of children led us to meeting Kapasa (not his real name), a father of three children with albinism. He shares his experience as a first-time father to a child with albinism.
“Ba madam nabakwata umusungu,” to mean, “your wife has given birth to a white baby,” he narrated in his native language. Young, naive, and confused at this statement, he recounts how he rushed to the hospital to see what they meant by a white child. A story of such nature was the first of its kind to happen in his village back in Nakonde.
“When I arrived at the hospital, I was confused. In the hospital bed lay my wife with a light baby wrapped in her arms. I was speechless, but then I remembered every child is a gift from God,” he said.
He shares that what followed when the family returned home were visits from community members and strangers, some of whom offered to take care of his child. Mr. Kapasa says the first time his wife gave birth to a child with albinism, everyone started talking in the village. He recounts how he heard stories about children with albinism being sold in the neighboring country Tanzania, which borders his hometown Nakonde district.
“The moment I heard about these stories, I knew I had to protect my child, even when people offered to take care of him, I could not allow them,” he said.
Kapasa now has three children, all with albinism, and has since relocated to Lusaka, the home of opportunities. He says that since his relocation, he has not faced any challenges with the welfare of his children.
“People in Lusaka are more informed about albinism. My neighbors and the community I live in have accepted my children, and I am no longer worried about their safety. However, I still have to escort the youngest child to school because of the stereotyping surrounding people with albinism.”
By Cindy Sipula