Tanzanian authorities have nabbed a 44-year-old man in an undercover sting aimed at curbing the selling of people with albinism to witchdoctors and others who would use their body parts in black magic.
People with albinism, also known as albinos, have an extreme deficiency of melanin pigmentation that makes their skin and hair very pale. The condition generally results from recessive genes carried by parents. Albinism in Africa brings with it an increased chance of developing fatal skin cancer, and the lack of pigment to protect eyes against the bright sun can cause sight problems.
Morbidly, in some areas where superstitions prevail, there are those who believe that the body parts of people with albinism bring wealth and luck when used in charms.
The suspect arrested in Tanzania was allegedly trying to sell his six-year-old albino niece, but did not know that he was actually dealing with security officials as part of an operation to put a halt to the illegal body part trade, Reuters reported.
The girl's mother, Joyce Mwandu, who also has albinism, lives with her four children in Kona Nne Village in Tanzania's western Tabora region. She told authorities masked men broke into their home two nights ago and kidnapped her daughter in the night, sparking a village-wide manhunt.
The region's acting-Police Commissioner Juma Bwire said that authorities had arranged the sting after receiving a tip-off that a man was looking to sell the girl to someone. No price tag was disclosed, but a full set of albino body parts can fetch as much as $75,000, according to the Red Cross.
"After we had received the information, our officers immediately put our trap and were able to arrest the man red-handed," Bwire said. The girl was rescued unharmed and is back in the care of her mother, he added.
One child in 3,000 is born with albinism in East Africa, compared to one in 20,000 in the United States. Advocacy groups estimate that there are more than 100,000 albinos in Tanzania. The targeting of this group in abductions and killings has become common — more than 76 albinos have been murdered in the country since 2000 and various others mutilated in some way.
VICE News recently traveled to Tanzania to meet with Josephat Torner, an activist fighting for the rights and safety of people with albinism in his country.
In August 2012, areporton the risks to albino children in Tanzania was published by Under The Same Sun, an NGO that focuses on the plight of people with albinism.
"Myths include the belief that people with albinism never die — they simply vanish," the report stated, adding that many believe, "they are not human, but ghosts, apes, or other sub-human creatures." These superstitions mean that "infanticide and physical attacks causing death and bodily harm are common place in the region," according to the report.