A five-year-old girl with albinism Djeneba Diarra was beheaded in a suspected ritual murder for her body parts in Mali. Her murder has caused an outrage in her home village, Fana, located 126 km north of Mali’s capital, Bamako.

According to reports armed men abducted Djeneba from her family’s home while she was sleeping in the courtyard with her mother and her sister when kidnappers attacked. The girl’s mother at first tried to pursue the kidnappers, who jumped a wall with her child, but then turned back to protect her second daughter, also living with albinism.

“We demand justice. Her head was taken. This is a ritual crime,” activist Mamadou Sissoko told AFP.

There are concerns the killing could be linked to Mali’s presidential election, which is taking place at the end of July. Body parts of persons with albinism are used for witchcraft purposes. There is a belief in certain African countries that body parts have magical powers and when used in potions produced by witch doctors it will bring wealth and power.

Read: International Albinism Awareness Day: #NoGhosts

Sissoko said: “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.”

A prominent campaigner on albinism, Malian musician Salif Keita has commented on the murder of Djeneba, and pledged to fight for her justice.

“A little five-year-old albino was killed near Bamako. Support our efforts and share the news!” Keita wrote on Twitter.

“Don’t worry, we’re gonna fight for that little innocent girl and her mom. Do not worry, we will fight for this little girl and her mother. #justice #albinos #stopauxmassacres,” Keita wrote on Facebook.

Many people on social media have expressed their outrage at the murder of Djeneba, and urged harsh action to be taken against the perpetrators of the crime.

Enduring problem

Violence and stigma aimed at people with albinism is widespread. Due to general ignorance and myths associated with the condition, there is still a stigma surrounding people with albinism, resulting in discrimination, dehumanisation and isolation. Some communities believe that people living with albinism are “ghosts” or have magical powers; that they are the result of incest or a curse. People living with albinism are therefore often victims of hate crimes such as beheading as their body parts are used in witchcraft rituals. This stems from the superstition that they can bring riches, success, power or sexual conquest. Children are especially vulnerable to these crimes.

These stereotypes and superstitions are especially prevalent in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa, where there is a larger population of people living with albinism.

The United Nations reports that Sub-Saharan Africa has more people with albinism with an estimated 1 in 1,400 people being affected in Tanzania and prevalence as high as 1 in 1,000 reported for select populations in Zimbabwe. Albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically leading to an unsafe environment for people with albinism particularly in Africa.