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Discrimination Against Persons With Albinism; A Call For Strict Measures — An Appeal To African Nation-States: An Albino Has A First Name – By U.O. Okocha ESQ

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Introduction
An average “albino” battles with dwarfish self-esteem. His birth name is often forgotten by inhabitants of his space and he must get used to the “albino chants” from his family, peers and society. An unpopular opinion could be that a person with albinism finds a way out of the problem by learning to love himself first, regardless. But it has always been a crucible for persons with albinism as they are made to walk through the valley of death constructed by witch doctors, greedy men after albino bones, human traders conversant with black market prices and myth-drunk persons all out to end the lives of persons with albinism. Expectedly, as it is only wise, the average albino should pay little regard to the “regardless” and seek actual solution lines.

In this paper, we shall be considering the make-up of albinism, its prevalence in Africa, the reasons behind the discrimination against persons with albinism, and some recommendations that may bring long-term respite to the troubled albinos.

What is Albinism?

Albinism is a genetic condition in which a person lacks the gene for producing melanin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for the protection of the skin from ultraviolet light of the sun. Albinism is the lack of enough or the entire absence of pigments and its effect is often characterized by little or no pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair of a person.

It should be stressed that albinism is non-contagious. It is one very prevalent in the African Continent but not to say that it is untrue to find persons with albinism in other climes of the earth. For example, sources from the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation reveals that in North America and Europe, a ballpark of 1 in every 17,000 to 20,000 people are affected by the condition. In the Panama or Pacific Regions, the rate could be as high as 1 in every 70 to 1 in every 125.

There are different types of albinism. A report, at the 31st session of the United Nations General Assembly, presented by an Independent Expert, Ms Ero of Nigeria, recognized the Oculocutaneous Albinism (OCA) as the most common and visible of types. OCA exists either as Tyrosinae negative albinism (OCA1) or Tyrosinae positive albinism (OCA2). In the latter, some melanin is produced and it has features like yellow-blonde or sandy-coloured hair and grey to light brown irises. This type of OCA is commonplace in the different parts of Africa. It is this type that this paper refers all through the unravelling of violence against albinos.

For mentions, OCA1 is one of little or no melanin production characterized by white hair and opaque irises. Other types of albinism, though less common, are Ocular Albinism (affects the eye only); albinism accompanied by Hermansky-Pudiak Syndrome characterized by bleeding disorders, bowel and lung diseases.

I Discriminate, Why Should I not?

It remains a hard pill to swallow that the coloured Black race would end up doing those evil things it allegedly suffered under the White’s dominance. While Martin Luther King Junior’s, I HAVE A DREAM resonates with the Black Community, in their quest for equal opportunities, they probably were too narrow-minded as not to appreciate the whole essence of the struggle. King said, “…I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the Colour of their Skin but by the content of their character.” In today’s news, the intraracial discrimination within African Countries breathes. Persons with albinism have had to identify as “afin” or “albino” enduring the sneer and hoping the dismembering of their body, stops.

It may interest the curious to know that 25% chance exists that two adults having similar recessive albinism gene would birth an albino. This has nothing to do with the realities that the adults who mated did not suffer lack of pigmentation. To take home is the fact that a male and female with different recessive albinism gene can never give birth to an albino. The point is, it does not necessarily take two persons with albinism to have a child with the condition. We could be carriers of albinism in our recessive gene and it will be unfair to hate an innocent albino offspring for the gene combination he was no party to. There is need to treat persons with albinism as humans and not things.

The Place of Myths in the World of Facts and Figures

1. The belief that mothers of children with albinism slept with a White man. This is not sound. Albinism is a genetic condition occasioned by a lack or absence of pigmentation. It has no nexus with infidelity. According to the Albino Foundation, albinism is not a product of cross—race relationship.
2. The belief that albinism occurs to people who fail to eat salt. This is equally not sound. Albinism has nothing to do with salt. Some even tell albinos to avoid iodized salts. This is unsound too. In fact, research shows that iodized salts form vitamins good for the persons with albinism.

3. The belief that albinism is a punishment or a curse from the gods or ancestral spirits due to wrongs done in the family. This is a blatant lie. Albinism is based on recessive genes, not sins of men.

4. The belief that persons with albinism cannot see during the day but see very well at night. This lacks merit. Persons with albinism are often visually impaired due to lack of pigmentation in the retina and by implication, albinos can see both day and night albeit with the assistance of sight aids or by presenting objects closer to their eyes and vice versa.

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5. The belief that the bones of persons with albinism can cure HIV/AIDS as well as bring wealth. This poisonous orientation rests on the greatest fallacy. The methods of dismembering albinos dead or alive or digging up their graves to gather up fossils is unscientific, repugnant to natural justice and are practiced scams by witch doctors on the gullible greedy folks.

6. The belief that the spots found on a person with albinism is a natural feature or identity of an albino. This will not be sound no matter what! Those spots come as a result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation of a scorching sun’s sign of presence. It is only brotherly to advise that albinos with such spots visit the hospital. You could be saving a life from the ugly hands of skin cancer.

The Journey So Far – African Focus

Violence against persons with albinism did not start in this current time. It has been impossible to eliminate its existence in many African Countries. In Malawi, for instance, there was containment of violent attacks on albinos for a short span of 7 months after the Amnesty International Awareness Programme held in 2016 and the outright condemnation of its ugly head by President Mutharika. But like the volatility of the Nigerian Stock Exchange or oil prices at the Market, the conscience of these perpetrators gave in to the force of fluctuation leading to a step-up of death percentages of albinos on the eve of the 8th month. The 7 months respite experienced in Malawi between June and December, 2016, has been attributed to President Mutharika’s public condemnation of the attacks as well as the awareness outreach conducted by Amnesty International. However, this writer does not share in this sentiment.

It is not in doubt that the attacks stopped during those 7 months but with the spate of killings after that short while, it was in fact a record breaking year for the perpetrators. If lessons were earlier learnt, their actions showed they may have forgotten or unlearned civilization in 2017. With over 35 reported cases of desecrated graveyards all in frantic search of albinos’ bones, the Awareness Outreach was not convincing to some.

From the purview of this writer, the Awareness campaign may have caused a decline in the attacks but this decline was not because good conscience was finding its path into the guilty mind of the perpetrators. From the statistics of the United Nations, suspected perpetrators operating as a gang or individuals can gain up to US$75,000 for the sale of a full set of body parts. If one converts it to Naira, we are looking at N27, 112,500 – Judas Iscariot sure grew a fan base in East Africa. Chiefly, the perpetrators slowed down between June and December 2016 because of the tension in the air, security measures in place, fear of difficult policies that may lead to the end of albino trading at the Black Market, and the effect of the awareness programme on their prey, the albinos. Their justification will be to sing sorrowful songs of their abject penuries.

Say we consider the recent killings of persons with albinism sometime in March 2019 (Malawi), can we say President Mutharika has failed Malawian’s with albinism? It is probably hasty to judge, there is none competent to play God over this issue especially as efforts have been made to stop the violence. But if one considers the reported 148 cases of violence and the appalling conclusion of only 44 cases in the space of 2014-2018 with the rumours that the police and the politicians play direct or indirect role in the abuse of albinos, it can be understood why the albinos demand a statement of competence or otherwise from President Mutharika else their right to asylum. Well, good thing for the government to have made the penal section to reflect capital punishment. Accounts from some albinos have that even though it is not carried out, so long as the culprits will remain in prison for the rest of their lives for violence against them, justice is surely served.

If we must consider the bigger picture, Amnesty International, in 2016, revealed that 1 in every 1800 persons is a person with albinism. The ballpark thus settles around 7, 000 to 10, 000 albinos in the entire population of Malawi. Some stats have the estimate to be 15, 000 Malawians with albinism considering the 2019 step-up in fertility rate and the size of the country at 18, 628, 747 Malawians. Take the 2016 or 2019 average number of persons with albinism; they could easily form a country 6 times or 13 times bigger than Vatican City. If we are paying attention, using the 2019 report, imagine that 1 in every 5,000 Malawians with albinism is a greedy perpetrator without the genetic condition ( i.e. one non-albino in the midst of every 5000 defenseless albinos) then we will be looking at a kill rate at par with the African Elephants gunned down every 6 minutes. The rarity of albinos does not translate into life’s secret treasures that they now must suffer extinction like animals all because of illogical fetish.

The situation in Malawi is prevalent in Tanzania as well. With a reported death rate of 75 albinos in the space of 8 years – we are even in shock pondering on the number of unreported killings – there is need to cry for help. The chain flows even to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Mozambique and other African Nations around the East Coastal regions, et al.

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A curious Nigerian may wonder what the above clamour has to do with Nigeria. Are Nigerians guilty of the myths discussed in this paper? Yes, we are. In fact, killing persons with albinism in Nigeria was on a high in 2013. Jake Epelle, activist for the rights of albinos and founder of Albino Foundation, was frequent on the media canvassing solution tools to fix the fiendish atmosphere. It is true that we have not heard much news about further killing of albinos for some time but can we pretend we have not heard the discrimination sing a different song?

Research has shown that out of over 200 million Nigerians, a rough estimate of 2 million are persons with albinism. This statistics are possibly too generous or accommodating but the possible exaggerations do not bring any burden to the fact that Nigeria accommodates the highest number of albinos. With the recent protests of Nigerians with albinism early this year, 2019, over discrimination by employers, albinos’ rights are still marginalized.

Recommendations

1. More Research and Data Base: This should be conducted and secured so as to determine the number of albinos from hospital records. In most African Countries, there is no trusted data accounting for the number of albinos. This will help the Government plan on ways to cater for their peculiar needs.

2. A Call for Awareness: Statistics have shown that 98% of persons with albinism die at the age of 40 for avoidable reasons. More NGO’s should be on deck to make swifter the visions of the Albino Foundation. There is need to reach out to schools, communities, industries, et al. There is the need for teachers to undergo special training on how to manage children with albinism as they are as vulnerable as an average albino animal, prey, in the wild life. The Government should financially empower well meaning Civil Societies going about sensitizing people on the entire scope of albinism. Funds for purchasing screen glasses should be provided too.

3. A Call for the Force of Law: Mere enactment of a law is useless if it is voiceless or without force. It is not enough to recognize the prohibition against discrimination of colour and persons with disability vide s. 20 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. The executive arm should implement the letters of these laws. The Malawi and Tanzanian Government need to be more deliberate about implementing its laws.  Since albinos are visually impaired, they suffer a disability recognized under the above law; since s.20(supra) did not use “or” in its highlights of prohibited acts, the line between “race” and “colour” is significantly drawn. Thus, since albinism does not fall under racial abuse, it sits well in colour discrimination – what is known in South Africa as colourism, shadism, or skin-tone bias.

The writer’s interpretation of disability is appreciated in a Nigerian Legislation vide s.57 of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 where Persons with disability included the visually impaired.

With provisions in s.17 on the right of disabled persons to free education up to Secondary School level; s.18 on inclusiveness in education and the catering of a disabled child by trained personnel and s.21 on Free Health Care, the above Nigerian Legislation will go a long way in creating the sense of belonging in albinos.

4. A Call for Good Policies: In Nigeria, for example, albinos suffer discrimination by employers. With their number in Nigeria, there should be working policies in play to see that they can secure jobs (the qualified ones) as this will tell well in the tax revenue of the Government and the Gross Domestic Product per fiscal year.

On the strength of ss. 28 (1) and 29 of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibitions) Act, 2018, a person with disability (An albino in this case) enjoys equal rights to work. It is the position of the law that employers of labour in public organizations SHALL, as much as possible, have persons with disabilities constituting at least 5% of their employment. This imposition is encouraging; we await its due implementation.

This writer believes that an extension of this into the private sector will go a long way in keeping a fair number of persons with albinism employed. The 5% disabled under the public organization envisages all legally disabled mentioned in the interpretation section of the Act which then leaves one puzzled — what becomes the average percentage only albinos will secure in the public institutions though appreciating the efforts? It is to this thinking that if the Minister of Finance and other relevant team table this before the moguls of the private sector, you never can tell.

A Discrimination-Free Policy could be formulated as was done in Iceland on the 1st of January, 2018. This will go a long way in ensuring there is no discrimination by employers over the salaries to be paid to its staff (of concern, the persons with albinism). Its measures should be strict such that a violation of the certificate of compliance issued the private firms and government corporations will attract a seizure of operation licence.

5. A Call for more Court’s with Trained Personnel: Malawi, for example, still needs very skilled Magistrate in the technical areas of albinism. This area requires urgent attention especially as most of United Nations’ help lines will only act where there is evidence of exhaustion of local one’s legal rights at the local or municipal courts or tribunal. Justice delayed is justice denied and the Courts should be well placed in good numbers as it decides matters in the overall interest of justice.

6. A Call for Assistance by the Government is Sacrosanct. In Malawi and Tanzania, for example, it has posed a lot of difficulty for the police to speed up its investigation. Most times the suspects are left to walk away due to inability to make a case. The police should be held accountable and the recruitment of personnel should not become child’s play. There is need for more qualified police prosecutors in Malawi to avoid the slipshod handling of matters discussed. If more technical know-how is needed, the government should walk towards its realization.

Conclusion

The list cannot be exhausted. Ultimately, persons with albinism need to be treated like humans. Remind an albino today (especially a young child) of the need to wear sun screens, avoid the sun all through scorching time, use broad brimmed hats, and go for personal check up. It will be a thing of delight if we can financially help an albino with a sun screen or medical bills; what better way to show we are upholders of the preamble of our various constitutions? God bless Africa.

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