Witch children in Tanzania
A documentary on BBC4 at 10pm tonight (Monday 2 July 2012) will highlight the situation for children growing up with albinism on the Ukerewe Island, a part of Tanzania. A higher-than-average number of people on the island have albinism, and children living with the condition often face accusations of witchcraft. As a result, they are at risk of severe violence and even death.
Albinism is a genetic condition which involves a defect of melanin production resulting in little or no colour pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. It is classed as a ‘rare’ disease and estimated to affect less than one in 200,000 people worldwide. However, the Ukerewe Island is known for its disproportionately high albino population. The Ukerewe Albino Society estimates that it could affect as many as one in every 4,000 people on the island.
Those living with albinism have an increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer, as a result of the lack of skin pigmentation. The disease can also cause vision defects. A commonly-held perception across Tanzania and the Ukerewe Island is that children with albinism are cursed and they are labelled as 'witch children,' leading to their exclusion from society. Many children with albinism are abandoned by their parents and left to fend for themselves at an early age, and live as outcasts from their community.
There are multiple cases of children with albinism being murdered as result of the prevalent belief that they are 'cursed'. Some people also believe that their body parts, when used by witchdoctors for potions, have the potential to bring power and wealth to the recipient. Some albino children are murdered for this purpose; others are left mutilated after suffering horrific attacks. The Ukerewe Albino Society estimates that between 2008-9 alone, 53 people with albinism were brutally killed for witchdoctor potions and ritual ceremonies.
Many innocent people, especially children, are in constant danger of losing their lives in these ritualistic murders and attacks. This is one reason why SOS Children runs many projects in Tanzania, where we tackle the root causes of abandonment and help children who are vulnerable and at risk.
SOS Children in Tanzania
Our charity began working in Tanzania in 1988. Today, we have three SOS Children’s Villages (in Zanzibar, Arusha and Dar Es Salaam) which provide a loving, long-term home for children who have been orphaned or abandoned by their biological families, for many reasons.
We also have three SOS Family Strengthening Programmes in Tanzania, which enable children who are at risk of losing the care of their family to stay with their biological parents, and receive proper care and guidance. Our Social Workers work directly with families and communities to educate them about their children’s needs and ensure that they can grow up safely.
Find out more about our work in Tanzania.