Albinism is defined as a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition present at birth which results in a lack of pigmentation (melanin) in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light. As such, most persons with albinism are visually impaired and face a greater risk of developing skin cancer and there is no cure for the absence of melanin.
Of late, persons with albinism have been targeted for violent attacks some of which have resulted into gruesome deaths. The motivation of such heinous and barbaric acts are ridiculous superstitious beliefs that body parts and tissues of such persons form a major component in coming up with charms that lead to economic successes. Some, like young girls and women, have been sexually abused in the belief that sleeping with them would cure diseases such as HIV and Aids.
A report by the United Nations says: “Some even believe that the witchcraft ritual is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, so body parts are often cut from live victims, especially children. The use of children is linked to the pursuit of innocence which, it is believed, enhances the potency of the witchcraft ritual. Moreover, children are more vulnerable to attacks as they are easy to find and capture and do not have the physical strength to fend off attackers.” This, perhaps, explains the evil that most children with albinism are facing in the country from violent amputations to abductions.
Persons with albinism have rights which are being violated by these cruel attacks. One of the rights in danger is the right to life. The right is enshrined in various international instruments. These are the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. The Malawi Constitution enshrines the right to life for everyone and that no one should have his right to life arbitrarily deprived.
Thus, the right to life of persons with albinism is being violated by the spate of killings. Every human right calls for a correlative duty bearer. The State has a duty to protect persons with albinism from arbitrary deprivation of their right to life, liberty and security of the person.
Looking at the precarious position persons with albinism find themselves in, to insist on applying formal equality in discharging this obligation is both fallacious and ineffective as it only preserves the status quo. Protecting persons with albinism using formal equality would result in leaving out such persons in their vulnerable position. For instance, in a community where there are persons with albinism and others without, applying the same measure of equality in protecting such persons amid the targeted killing is a perpetuation of falsehood.
It is pertinent that a different kind of measure of equality be employed. It is the contention of this author that there is need to apply substantive equality in the bid to protect the rights of persons with albinism. This is so because the targeted attacks are motivated by loopholes and hierarchies that are embedded inside formal equality. The society’s view towards persons with the albinism condition, like any other form of disability fuels attacks and segregation against persons with such condition.
Substantive equality tries to overturn hierarchies embedded inside formal equality as an analysis of the society’s make up is indispensible in ensuring proper protection. Rosemary Kayess and Phillip French write that substantive equality remedies the problems by compensating for historical disadvantage, by requiring alteration of the norm to better reflect human diversity. This would include taking affirmative action to address the imbalances. n