The police is failing to stop a surge of albino killings in the southern African nation of Malawi, human rights group Amnesty International said Tuesday.
The poverty-stricken nation has experienced a wave of violent attacks against people with albinism over the past two years. Since November 2014, at least 18 albinos have been killed and at least five have been abducted and remain missing, according to the report.
Their bones are believed to be sold to practitioners of traditional medicine in Malawi and Mozambique for use in charms and magical potions, in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck.
The macabre trade is also fuelled by a belief that the bones of people with albinism contain gold.
The killings and brutal attacks had "created a climate of terror" for the up to 10,000 albinos who live in Malawi, said Amnesty director for southern Africa, Deprose Muchena.
"People tell me to my face that they will sell me. One time someone said I was worth 6 million kwacha (10,000 dollars). I felt pained by the remarks that a price tag can be put on me," a male albino told the researchers.
"After 5:30 pm I have to go home. I don't feel safe," a woman with albinism said.
The police have recorded at least 39 illegal exhumations of albinos or cases of people in possession of albino bones and body parts since November 2014, the report found. The police also recorded at least 69 crimes against albinos in the same period.
The rights group believes that the actual number of killed albinos is much higher due to the fact that many secretive rituals in rural areas are never reported.
But convictions are few. The police lacks adequate training, skills and resources to investigate the crimes, according to the report. There is also no systematic documentation of crimes against people with albinism in Malawi.
In addition, there are fears that some police officers discriminate against albinos and fail to take human rights abuses against them seriously, the report said.
"Malawian authorities have dismally failed [albinos], leaving this population group at the mercy of criminal gangs who hunt them down for their body parts," Muchena said.
Particularly women and children were vulnerable to killings, the report found. Sometimes albinos were targeted by their own relatives.
Four people, including a baby, were murdered in April alone, according to Amnesty. One of the victims was not even 2 years old when she was snatched from her sleeping mother.
Pieces of the toddler's skull, some teeth and clothing were found days later on a nearby hill. Five men, including her father, were arrested on suspicion that they had been involved in her murder.
"Most people who attack [people with albinism] are close relatives," one woman told the researchers. "I met one mother ... who was hiding her children out of fear. As a result, the children were not going to school."