People with albinism face multiple forms of discrimination worldwide. Albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically. The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalization and social exclusion. This leads to various forms of stigma and discrimination.
In some communities, erroneous beliefs and myths, heavily influenced by superstition, put the security and lives of persons with albinism at constant risk. These beliefs and myths are centuries old and are present in cultural attitudes and practices around the world.
On 18 December 2014, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming, with effect from 2015, 13 June as International Albinism Awareness Day.
The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in 2013 calling for the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism. Moreover, in response to the call from civil society organizations advocating to consider persons with albinism as a specific group with particular needs that require special attention, on 26 March 2015, the Council created the mandate of Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
In January 2016, Ms. Ikponwosa Ero, United Nations Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights of Persons with Albinism submitted her first report on albinism to the UN Human Rights Council. Adding to the information contained in the July 2016 report to the General Assembly, the latest report was presented to the Human Rights Council in 2017 and included a focus on witchcraft as a key root cause of attacks against persons with albinism.
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited difference present at birth. In almost all types of albinism, both parents must carry the gene for it to be passed on, even if they do not have albinism themselves. The condition is found in both sexes regardless of ethnicity and in all countries of the world. Albinism results in a lack of pigmentation (melanin) in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light. As a result, almost all people with albinism are visually impaired and are prone to developing skin cancer. There is no cure for the absence of melanin that is central to albinism.
The term “person with albinism” is preferred to “albino”, which is often used in a derogatory way. The right to freedom from discrimination requires States to adopt comprehensive strategies to ensure that persons with albinism are afforded equal protection under the law and in practice.
While numbers vary, it is estimated that in North America and Europe 1 in every 17,000 to 20,000 people have some form of albinism. The condition is much more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, with estimates of 1 in 1,400 people being affected in Tanzania and prevalence as high as 1 in 1,000 reported for select populations in Zimbabwe and for other specific ethnic groups in Southern Africa.
Violence and discrimination against persons with albinism: a global phenomenon?
While it has been reported that persons with albinism globally face discrimination and stigma, information on cases of physical attacks against persons with albinism is mainly available from countries in Africa.
Persons with albinism face more severe forms of discrimination and violence in those regions where the majority of the general population are relatively dark-skinned. … In other words, a greater degree of contrast in pigmentation often gives rise to a greater degree of discrimination. That appears to be the case in some sub-Saharan African countries where albinism is shrouded in myth and dangerous and erroneous beliefs.
The manner in which discrimination faced by persons with albinism manifests itself, and its severity, vary from region to region. In the western world, including North America, Europe and Australia, discrimination often consists of name-calling, persistent teasing and bullying of children with albinism. Little information is available from other regions such as Asia, South America and the Pacific etc. However, some reports indicate that in China and other Asian countries, children with albinism face abandonment and rejection by their families.
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