A one-year-old albino boy, abducted from his home in northwestern Tanzania over the weekend, was found murdered on Tuesday with his "arms and legs hacked off," according to the local police chief. This gruesome discovery shows that despite new laws banning the witch doctors who prey upon them, people with albinism are still vulnerable in the East African nation.
In Tanzania the body parts of albinos are prized by witch doctors and their superstitious followers as they are said to bring wealth and luck when used in charms. A complete set of body parts can be sold for as much as $75,000, according to the Red Cross.
This victim, Yohana Bahati, was kidnapped from his family home in the Geita region by an armed gang. Police said his mother, Esther, was struck with a machete as she tried to protect him.
"Unfortunately this family resides in a protected forest area," Joseph Konyo, the regional police commander, told Reuters. "It was extremely difficult for the police to immediately arrest the suspected robbers." Two other albino children who were in the house were not taken.
Yohana's mutilated body was discovered a few miles from his home, according to the BBC.
Albinism, a hereditary condition that prevents people from producing pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes, is much more common in parts of Africa than the rest of the world. While an estimated one in 20,000 people are affected globally, this figure rises to one in every 1,400 Tanzanians.
Abductions and killings have become common in Tanzania — over 72 albinos have been murdered in the country since 2000. And the practice is showing no signs of stopping.
VICE News recently traveled to Tanzania to meet with Josephat Torner, an activist fighting for the rights and safety of albinos in his country.
In his interview with VICE News, Torner explained the stigma associated with albinism in Tanzania is so strong that his mother was advised to poison him. "At that time it was like a curse," he said. "You know, it was like a shame."
He alleged that as albino body parts have become more valuable, family members have been tempted to sell their own albino family members to witch doctors for money. "I have found many parents who have been convicted for this," he said. "They sold their children to the killers."
Only two months ago, a 4-year-old girl, Pendo Emmanuelle Nundi, was snatched from her home in Mwanza, also in northwestern Tanzania.
Fifteen people were initially arrested in connection with her disappearance, including the girl's father. Police reportedly offered three million Tanzanian shillings (around $1,600) as a reward for information that would lead to finding her "dead or alive." Pendo remains missing.
In August 2012, a report on 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.
'I am pushing to the Tanzanian government to protect us more.'
"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.
Those risks, and the rising death toll, forced the hand of Tanzania's central government in January, when it banned witch doctors in an effort to curb the trade in albino body parts.
"We have identified that witch doctors are the ones who ask people to bring albino body parts to create magical charms which they claim can get them rich," said Tanzania's Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe when the law was passed. "We will leave no stone unturned until we end these evil acts."
Yet this latest murder proves there is still a long way to go for the government to truly protect people with albinism of Tanzania. Torner, who was attacked himself in 2012, has called for more to be done.
"I am pushing to the Tanzanian government to protect us more," he explained. "We are Tanzanian citizens. We need to be protected like other people, the way how they are being protected."
"I will continue to fight, I will not give up for sure," Torner added.
Follow Scott Mitchell on Twitter: @s_mitchell