Malawi's albinos at risk of 'total extinction,' U.N. warns

Albino teen attacked for her body parts
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Story highlights

  • The southern African nation has about 10,000 albinos
  • Malawi has seen increasing attacks in recent years, U.N. warns

(CNN)Malawi's albinos are at risk of "total extinction" amid escalating attacks against them for their body parts, the United Nations warned.

Albinism is a genetic condition that leads to little or no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair.
Albinism is a genetic condition that leads to little or no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. The southern African nation has about 10,000 albinos, according to the U.N.
    In some African countries, albinos' body parts are believed to bring wealth and good luck. As a result, attackers chop off their limbs and pluck out organs, and sell them to witchdoctors.
    Even after albinos are killed, some attackers go a step further and steal their remains from graveyards, said Ikponwosa Ero, the United Nations' expert on albinism.

    Living in constant fear

    "Persons with albinism, and parents of children with albinism, constantly live in fear of attack," she said.
    "Many do not sleep peacefully and have deliberately restricted their movement to the necessary minimum."
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    Ero recently visited Malawi, which has seen an increasing number of attacks.
    Since the end of 2014, there have been 65 recorded cases of attacks, the U.N. said.
    Ero urged the government to step in to protect albinos and go after their killers more aggressively.
    "It is clear that an urgent and coordinated response from the government, civil society and development partners working in strong partnership with each other is required," she said.
    She called for better training for police and those who work for the court system, saying punishment for those who attack albinos is not stringent enough.
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    "As pointed out by various stakeholders during my visit, stealing a cow may attract a higher penalty," she said.
    Albinism is not limited to countries such as Tanzania, Burundi and Malawi.
    In the United States, about one in 20,000 people have some type of albinism. But in countries such as Tanzania, the number can be as high as one in 1,500.