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Albino attacks hamper sports

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Deal! Deal! The insensitive street vendors recently chanted and whistled in Blantyre City at the sight of a mother and daughter with albinism.

Maybe, these were mere bad jokes as is usually the case in the streets of Malawi.

But by saying ‘deal’, the vendors suggested that the sight of the girl presented a potential business transaction.

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The insults left the mother, Hilda Mbalu, from Mbayani Township, Blantyre so heart-broken.

When, a few days later, Malawi Paralympic Committee (MPC) came calling asking for the release of her daughter, Emily, to Southern Region paralympic Under-20 qualifying games, the mother could not just take that risk.

“I told off the man who insulted my daughter. Even when going to school, I have to escort her as there are times when she is threatened,” she narrated the daughter’s ordeal.

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“In another incident, when Emily went to Zambia for international paralympic games, we, for her own safety, kept it as a secret. Neighbours started insinuating that we had suddenly more money because we had sold our daughter. It hurts so much.”

In another incident, MPC struggled to have the release of another athlete with albinism based in Balaka.

Her parents refused to let her travel to Lilongwe for games. The only compromise the parent made was asking MPC that she should accompany the daughter to Lilongwe.

And the trip was at the cost of the financially-challenged MPC, which was recently re-admitted into International Paralympic Committee (IPC) fold last year after being suspended for failing to account for London Paralympic Games grant.

In a country where attacks on people with albinism are on the increase, the road to sports for potential athletes has many stumbling blocks.

MPC president James Chiutsi admitted that their games are getting affected by the fears of abductions and killings of the albinos whose body parts are rumoured to be prized charms.

“We are using sports as an agent to try and change people’s views. In several areas, where our officials have gone that we want albinos to come and participate in sports, some of our people are even threatened,” Chiutsi said.

“Albinos are a large constituency of our athletes as most have problems with eye-sight, so we have a category for visually impaired athletes. We understand the reason, the harassments. What should happen is a change of mentality on both sides– the society and parents.”

Recently, the association hosted Under-20 national championship at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre with some 18 athletes, six drawn from each region in attendance.

Sadly, athletes from other areas such as old capital, Zomba, were conspicuously missing as education authorities, which are entrusted with release of such athletes, were not cooperative.

To get athletes, MPC gets authorisation letters from mother sports body, Malawi

National Council of Sports, whose executive secretary, George Jana confirmed the challenges.

Jana insisted that it is not only in sports that such challenges are experienced and called for attitude change.

Increasing attacks on people with albinism in Malawi, especially children, mean that guardians and parents cannot just trust anyone.

Attacks on people with albinism are on the increase in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and surrounding countries and sports is being affected.

President Peter Mutharika recently issued a warning that those caught abusing people with albinism face severe punishment.

Earlier this year, Inspector General of Police, Lexten Kachama, instructed police to shoot any “dangerous criminals” caught abducting albinos..

At least 15 people with albinism, mostly children, have been killed, wounded, abducted or kidnapped in East Africa in the past six months with a marked increase in Malawi, Tanzania and Burundi, according to the United Nations.

UN officials said at least six attacks on albinos were reported in Malawi in the first 10 weeks of 2015 compared to four incidents over the previous two years and gangs were roaming Machinga District hunting for victims.

Albinism is a congenital disorder which affects about one in 20,000 people worldwide, according to medical authorities. It is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and affects about one Tanzanian in 1,400, writes Reuters.

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