Wednesday June 26, 2019

The Traditional Healers of Malawi Deny Link to Albino Killings

The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days

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Albino toddlers killed for witchcraft. Image source: seeker.com
  • Traditional healers, known locally as herbalists, say they will challenge the ruling
  • In Malawi, it is common to consult herbalists for ailments such as mental illness, epilepsy and impotence
  • The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days

The high court in Malawi has banned so-called witch doctors in a bid to reduce demand for albino body parts. Malawi’s albino association has praised the ruling, but traditional healers have vowed to fight it, saying they are not involved in magic or murder.

The high court’s ruling last week stemmed from a complaint filed by three residents of the city of Mzuzu in northern Malawi. One of them said she paid a witch doctor a lot of money after he promised a charm that would make her ex-lover take her back.

At least 20 of the 60 albinos who fled their homes in rural areas to seek protection in and around the eastern Burundian town of Ruyigi are still living under police guard in improvised shelters. Ten men implicated in the trade in albino body parts for use as talismans are currently in the town’s central prison awaiting trial. As in its near neighbour, Tanzania’s Kigoma region, the Burundi Red Cross (BRC) Ruyigi branch played a lead role in coordinating the spontaneous local humanitarian response to the albino emergency last year, providing food, mosquito nets, clothes, building materials for toilets and moral support to the shelters. The BRC is now seeking external support for a broader operation to help reintegrate albinos into mainstream society and reduce their acute vulnerability to hunters, skin cancer, and educational and social marginalization. The picture shows Marie Niyukuri and her albino son, Ephreim, 7, who has an albino sister and eight black siblings. A suspected albino-hunter last year rode his bike straight at Ephreim in an apparent attempt to fake a road accident and make off with the boy’s body. But Ephreim was pulled back by his non-albino friends, and his attacker narrowly escaped being lynched on the spot by vigilant neighbours, jumpy since a small albino boy was snatched and killed in the neighbouring district. Image source: thecircular.org
At least 20 of the 60 albinos who fled their homes in rural areas to seek protection in and around the eastern Burundian town of Ruyigi are still living under police guard in improvised shelters. Image source: thecircular.org

“One of the clients was complaining that the source of the deaths of albinos in the country is these witch doctors because what they do is that they prescribe body parts of albinos, like bones,” said George Kadzipatike, the lawyer for the complainants.

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Those false claims have led to an alarming uptick in attacks on albinos in Malawi in the past two years.

The judge issued an injunction against what he called “witch doctors, traditional healers, charm sellers, fortune tellers and magicians,” and ads for their services.

The ban will not go into effect until the plaintiffs pay to publish the injunction in local media for seven consecutive days.

Herbalists’ response

Traditional healers, known locally as herbalists, say they will challenge the ruling. They say they are not involved in magic or the trafficking of albino body parts.

“To us, it is unfair because there is no way we can combine human body [parts] and something which is going to be consumed,” said Robins Zaniko, the general secretary for the International Traditional Medicine Council of Malawi. “Because what we mainly give out to people is traditional medicine, which is consumable. We give people [medicine] to drink, to eat so that they can be cured from their various diseases.”

Albinistic girl in New Guinea. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Albinistic girl in New Guinea. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

He says no herbalist has been among those arrested in connection with recent albino killings.

Timothy Mtambo, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, says banning all herbalists is not the answer.

“You can’t say we are banning everyone,” he said. “I would say we should have found mechanisms to make sure that we deal with those that are suspected and prove that [they] are responsible, rather than making a decision which is wholesale.”

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In Malawi, it is common to consult herbalists for ailments such as mental illness, epilepsy and impotence.

“There are times when we go to the hospitals [and] they tell us that there is no medication, so we instead go to the herbalists,” said Mbayani resident Enock Chigalu.

At least 18 people with albinism have been killed since November 2014, and five more are missing, according to an Amnesty International report released this month. Amnesty says police have not done enough to investigate the crimes, and the punishments doled out are too lenient. (VOA)

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  • AJ Krish

    Every nation has their own indigenous art of healing. Calling them witch doctors and accusing them of crimes is absurd .Further, banning them is crossing the line.Rather than finding the culprits,they took the easy way out by blaming these herbal doctors.Truly sad.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    I feel this is correct. Banning these quacks would result in people getting the right treatment by qualified doctors. There are numerous cases where casualties are caused as they are not experienced. plus, these doctors do not have any kind of knowledge about the syndromes, the side effects, the allergies, etc about the disease.

  • Paras Vashisth

    For any patient , a doctor is not lesser than God but exceptions are always there.
    It effects the faith and feelings of people to the doctors.

  • sahil nandwani

    After seeing the problem of Malawi, I feel that the people should be mentally aware,that they should take treatments from the qualified doctors rather than the witch doctors.

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  • AJ Krish

    Every nation has their own indigenous art of healing. Calling them witch doctors and accusing them of crimes is absurd .Further, banning them is crossing the line.Rather than finding the culprits,they took the easy way out by blaming these herbal doctors.Truly sad.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    I feel this is correct. Banning these quacks would result in people getting the right treatment by qualified doctors. There are numerous cases where casualties are caused as they are not experienced. plus, these doctors do not have any kind of knowledge about the syndromes, the side effects, the allergies, etc about the disease.

  • Paras Vashisth

    For any patient , a doctor is not lesser than God but exceptions are always there.
    It effects the faith and feelings of people to the doctors.

  • sahil nandwani

    After seeing the problem of Malawi, I feel that the people should be mentally aware,that they should take treatments from the qualified doctors rather than the witch doctors.

Next Story

Thailand Toughens Rape Laws with Rise in Child Sex Trafficking

Prison terms for rapists in positions of authority over their victims, such as relatives and teachers, also were raised by a third

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rape laws
FILE - The shackled legs of suspected human traffickers are seen as they arrive for their trial at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, March 15, 2016. VOA

Thailand has toughened its penalties for sharing photos and videos of sexual assault as the country grapples with a reported rise in child sex trafficking and a growing crop of “webcam centers” to exploit it.

But rights groups say most of Thailand’s neighbors have yet to toughen their laws to tackle online child abuse in an increasingly wired region, and that even the Thai legal update may leave some troubling trends largely unchecked.

“It’s great, what they’ve done. It’s really good in terms of the legal framework. That’s fine. But there still needs [to be] some other reforms to be done, especially in relation to livestreaming,” said François-Xavier Souchet, Thailand country manager for Terre des Hommes, a child rights group.

The changes took effect Monday and double the prison terms for convicted rapists — which mostly range up to 20 years — who record their assaults and share the material. They raise prison terms by a third for rapists who record their assaults to exploit victims.

Prison terms for rapists in positions of authority over their victims, such as relatives and teachers, also were raised by a third.

rape laws
FILE – An employee from the Department of Special Investigation sorts through evidence from a massage parlor after police raided the premises because of suspicions of underage trafficking and prostitution, in Bangkok, Jan. 15, 2018. VOA

Rights groups widely consider the number of reported rapes only a small fraction of the actual number, given the stigma victims can face and the pressures they often come under to stay silent.

In April, though, the Royal Thai Police Crime Suppression Division singled out rape as the “No. 1 public enemy” in the country. Citing police figures, the Bangkok Post said reported rape cases had dropped from 3,240 in 2015 to 2,109 the following year, but picked up again to 2,535 in 2017.

Human trafficking

Also in 2017, in a report on the latest trends in human trafficking into Thailand from its neighbors, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) identified the trafficking of children for webcam sex shows as an emerging problem.

At the report’s launch, the UNODC said demand for sex with children was a growing driver of human trafficking across the Mekong region and that it had recently noticed webcam centers exploiting children moving from the Philippines to Thailand.

“Sadly, it has been part of a larger trend in the region,” the UNODC’s representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, told VOA this week.

rape laws
FILE – Prosecutors from Thailand, Japan and other countries talk at a summit on sex trafficking, Sept. 28, 2016, in Honolulu. They called the scourge of sex trafficking a form of modern-day slavery. VOA

“Now they have so many cases about the use [of] the webcam,” agreed Jaded Chaowilai, director of Thailand’s Women and Men Progressive Movement, which helps rape victims.

“The sexual abuse and exploitation of children is an ongoing issue,” said Damian Kean, spokesman for ECPAT International, a child advocacy group based in Bangkok.

“While we have no evidence to suggest that it is on the rise, we do know that certain manifestations of this crime are increasing,” he said, “particularly sexual exploitation by travelers and tourists as Thailand’s tourism industry flourishes; online child sexual exploitation as internet coverage improves; and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes as neighboring countries suffer humanitarian crises.”

Child exploitation

Many of the cases of livestreaming, Kean added, “are facilitated by those in the child’s circle of trust, including often parents.”

The newly enacted legal amendments help address both problems by stiffening prison terms for rapists who record and share the abuse and have authority over the victim.

But rights groups worry that the law’s failure to specifically address livestreaming, where the abuse is not actually recorded, may prove a loophole for getting out of the tougher penalties.

“Once you stop the, I don’t know, Skype session or the Facebook Live, it’s just gone, it’s just gone,” said Souchet, of Terre des Hommes.

rape laws
FILE – People walk in the red light district in Pattaya, Thailand, April 10, 2009. At the time, the U.S. put Thailand on its human trafficking watch list, accusing it of not doing enough to combat trafficking. VOA

He worries that the people who watch the shows — and often direct the abuse — also may fall through the cracks.

“The person who is watching, who is kind of ordering the abuse and directing the abuse sometimes, and opening this kind of livestream to other people for … financial purposes, right? This guy, his responsibility, can he be charged against rape as an accomplice? This is not clear, because there’s no … direct physical abuse from his side. So that’s a legal challenge,” he said.

While Thailand is not alone in the region in toughening its rape laws — Myanmar in March upped the possible prison term for the rape of children under 12 to life — it is still an outlier.

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“Thailand remains somewhat exceptional in this regard,” said Douglas. “Positively, governments in the region are taking the issue of online child exploitation more seriously and they are cooperating on cross-border cases, although it is not enough and tends to be reactive.”

Souchet said he recently heard from a victims shelter in Thailand that is concerned more pedophiles active in the country are moving to Laos to evade capture, and that authorities in Myanmar increasingly are worried about becoming “another Thailand” for child sex offenders as the country opens up. Combating the problem “should be a regional effort,” he said. (VOA)