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Despair of persons with albinism

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CHIUSIWA—This calls for investigation

By Watipaso Mzungu:

Hope is fast giving way to despair among persons with albinism in the country.

The excitement that followed the announcement of the K400-million allocation meant for the construction of their decent houses is quickly dying down.

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“It is now five months since members of Parliament passed the budget, but there is nothing on the ground.

“It is very frustrating that the government has not constructed even a single house under the programme,” says Maynard Zakaria, Secretary- General of the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (Apam).

Malawi has over 134,000 persons with albinism, according to the 2018 Population and Housing Census.

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Most of them live in dilapidated houses in rural areas, where they face forms of marginalisation and discrimination.

They lack community support in times of need and are sometimes excluded from social protection and economic programmes or benefits.

They are also unable to rely on relatives and similar social networks that often cushion economic hardships.

The results of such exclusion include poverty, lack of education, unemployment, poor housing and ill-health.

These factors, says a recent report from Human Rights Watch, render them hyper-vulnerable to abuse and attacks.

Perpetrators are aware of their disenfranchisement and their lack of resources and redress in the face of crimes committed against them.

The report adds that the fear of attacks has worsened the economic situation of persons with albinism who are not able to cultivate their land, go to the marketplace or freely initiate economic activities.

“The same can be said of parents of children with albinism, who often have to curtail their economic activity to accommodate the need to watch over their children day and night and to escort them to and from school,” the report reads.

In February 2015, the Malawi Government developed and adopted the National Response Plan on Albinism Atrocities as an operational plan to guide all national initiatives aimed at addressing attacks directed at this group of people in a concerted way.

This culminated in the adoption of the 2018-2022 National Action Plan on Persons with Albinism to comprehensively and holistically address an array of human rights issues, beyond the attacks, affecting this vulnerable group in the country.

Additionally, the response plan aimed to act as a resource mobilisation tool for national efforts to end the atrocities.

The plan signified the national political and policy commitments and frameworks, respectively, to end cases of human rights violations perpetrated against persons with albinism.

“The plan was further developed to ensure speedy and fair administration of justice on perpetrators of attacks; provide support to victims of the attacks for reintegration into communities; promote a responsive/conducive legal environment that promotes the protection and fulfilment of the rights of persons with albinism; and build capacity of Apam to effectively advocate the rights of persons with albinism in the country,” the plan reads.

But despite boasting of progressive national laws, including ratified international human rights instruments framed to defend and protect them, persons with albinism continue to face human rights challenges and violations.

Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) National Governance Programmes Coordinator, George Chiusiwa, highlights poor access to social services such as healthcare, poor housing security, and little research on security and access to justice as some of the prevalent challenges among them.

With funds from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and European Union, CCJP is working on promoting rights to healthcare and access to justice for persons with albinism.

It also aims at reducing sociocultural stigma and discrimination and increase social integration of persons with albinism within their families and communities.

Chiusiwa, who conducted legal clinics in Machinga and Zomba, observes that there is sustained discrimination and stigma against these people due to myths, misbeliefs and perceptions about the condition.

He says lack of deliberate targeting under social protection initiatives like the Affordable Inputs Programme, the Social Cash Transfer Programme, the National Economic Empowerment Fund and the Public Works Programme, continues to worsen their vulnerability.

“It was comforting, therefore, to hear that the government had allocated K400 million in the 2020-21 and K300 million in 2021-22 for the National Action Plan.

“Another K400 million for housing for persons with albinism is in the 2021-22 budget. Yet, the status on this plan and implementation is not known and this calls for investigation,” Chiusiwa says.

Speaking at the launch of the observance of this year’s International Albinism Awareness Day, which falls on June 13 every year, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, said her ministry had conducted an assessment of would-be beneficiaries and that the list and location would be submitted to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

Kaliati also said the implementation of the plan had made some positive impact on awareness creation and provision of some requirements for persons with albinism like procurement of sunglass and paying of school fees to secondary students.

“My ministry will always consult and work with Apam on all matters relating to persons with albinism because we believe and respect the notion that ‘nothing for us without us,” she said.

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