How does a three year-old child, with no passport, visa or other documentation cross two international borders? A child with albinism has been stolen -- or sold – and no one has any information.
Dr. Pius Kamau, a surgeon from Colorado was traveling in his native Kenya when he witnessed a bizarre incident. Three men were arguing with a Kenyan Airways attendant in the Nairobi airport. They were trying to board a plane to Burkina Faso, clutching a sleepy boy with albinism. The men were belligerent because the attendant was questioning their right to travel from Tanzania with a child for whom they had no documentation. In a world of TSA body scans, barefoot security lines and multiple checkpoints, it seems impossible that one could travel with an undocumented child.
However, the rules are different for children with albinism. The men bullied their way onto the flight to Burkina Faso, effectively sidestepping regulations in Tanzania and Kenya. How could this happen?
It could happen because, as Dr. Kamau noted, children with albinism in East Africa are the children of a lesser god. Many in East Africa view albinism as a curse, and the body parts of people with albinism are sold on a gruesome black market. Witch doctors claim to be able to make potions from the body parts to confer wealth or luck. According to Under the Same Sun, there have been 78 murders of people with albinism in Tanzania alone, and an additional 21 non-fatal attacks.
Where were the child’s parents? Why hasn’t anyone reported the abduction? Why would Tanzanian officials even let them out of the country? Dr. Kamau and others have made calls to the airlines, government officials and the Tanzanian Embassy – all to no avail. No one seems to be willing to talk about a three year-old child, perhaps stolen away to a terrible fate.
As a parent, it is incomprehensible to me that a child can just vanish, and that no family is stepping up to ask questions. I am also the mother of two children with albinism, which makes this personally haunting. It may be that there is an acceptable explanation as to what happened. If that is true, why is the airline refusing to answer questions?
I fear that this child has been lost to a culture of cruelty and ignorance, where albinism renders one less than human. Two years ago, I founded an organization dedicated to helping people with albinism in East Africa called Asante Mariamu. I will be traveling to Tanzania in three weeks with several friends to work at a school that is home to over 70 children with albinism. I will look for answers in the faces of the people I meet, and continue to work to change the perception about albinism all over the world. All children with albinism – mine included – deserve this very basic human dignity.
Please join us in our effort to find out what happened to this child, and help us make it impossible for it to happen again.