A group of armed men kidnapped and beheaded a 5-year-old albino girl Sunday morning in Mali in an alleged ritual murder to harvest magic parts.
The unidentified men kidnapped Djeneba Diarra around 2:00 a.m. local time on Sunday while she slept with her mother and sister in the courtyard of their home in the village of Fana, according to AFP. The girl’s mother attempted to pursue the kidnappers as they scaled the courtyard wall with Djeneba in tow, but turned back to protect her other daughter, who is also albino. Villagers took up the search for Djeneba and later found her headless body.
“We searched for the little girl everywhere. We found her body beside a mosque, but she had no head,” village school teacher Oumar Diakite told AFP.
The murder of albinos in Mali is unfortunately not uncommon and, within hours of the grisly discovery of the girl’s body, locals had already labeled the crime: ritual murder.
“We demand justice. Her head was taken. This is a ritual crime,” Mamadou Sissoko, general secretary of the Federation of Associations of Persons with Albinism in West Africa, told AFP.
The hunting and ritual killing of albino people is a common practice not only in Mali, but also in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and West Africa. Kidnappers will abduct albino individuals in their home towns, traffic them to one of the aforementioned countries, slaughter them, and will often remove their bones to then sell to witch doctors as items of supernatural power believed to bring fortune and good luck, according to CNN.
Amnesty International has investigated and campaigned against ritual violence against albino people specifically in Malawi, which the organization says is fueled in part by similar beliefs about albinos and demand for their body parts in other African countries.
Poverty also plays a role in the ritual kidnapping of albinos, according to Amnesty International, due to rumors that the bones of albino people sell for high prices and the mistaken belief that they also contain gold.
“Thousands of people with albinism are at severe risk of abduction and killing by individuals and criminal gangs in Malawi, where their body parts are allegedly sold for use in rituals. Graves of people with albinism have also been targeted by criminals who remove bones in order to sell them. The bones are allegedly sold to practitioners of traditional medicine in Malawi and Mozambique for use in charms and magical potions in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck. The macabre trade is also fuelled by a belief that the bones of people with albinism contain gold,” reads a 2016 report from Amnesty International.
Witch doctors also perpetuate a negative stigmatization of albino people that is furthered by a lack of education about the rare genetic condition. When asked by albino activist Josephat Torner of Tanzania whether he had seen practitioners of witchcraft pray for help in capturing an albino person, a Tanzanian witch doctor said yes, because of the belief that white people are demons, according to CNN.
“We call you a spirit because a white person like you is the devil,” the witch doctor said.
“You’re saying I’m a white demon? We are demons?” Torner asked.
“Yes, because you’re white,” the witch doctor replied.
The ritual murder of albino people in Mali is linked to political events as well, according to Sissoko, as people will use albino body parts in rituals to try to influence the outcome of elections. In Djeneba’s case, her murder and mutilation may be connected to Mali’s upcoming July 29 presidential election.
“Every time there are elections, we become prey for people who want to make ritual sacrifices. This is not the first time this has happened in Fana. The state needs to take up its responsibilities,” Sissoko told AFP.
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