On 29th September 2017, University of Bolton Lecturer, Dr Sam Spence, returned from a trip to Geneva where she had joined a team led by Dr Charlotte Baker from Lancaster University and Gary Foxcroft, founder of the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network, at a UN level conference held to address the issue of trade in albino body parts for witchcraft. Dr Spence joined UN Experts, academics and members of the civil society to discuss the inhumane trade and bring light to the changes necessary to begin the end of all violence and discrimination against people born with albinism.

Dr Spence worked alongside UN Independent Expert on Albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, to ensure the real extent of the atrocity was heard at the conference. The workshop addressed large-scale human rights issues that have often slipped under the radar of governments, NGOs and academics as well as examples of human rights abuses linked to beliefs in witchcraft that ended in no prevention plan, investigation or prosecution by the judicial systems.

The gruesome trade in albino body parts is spreading across Africa, causing those who are born with albino skin to feel isolated and in constant fear, paralysed with anxiety and discriminated from society. Trade in human albino body parts has escalated during the 21st century, especially in sub-Saharan African communities, particularly among East Africans. Lack of knowledge in these countries means folktales and witchcraft related superstition replace scientific and medical facts. People with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered and graves of albinos have been dug up and desecrated.

The body parts, skin, golden hair and genitals of albinos are used in “good luck potions,” and are believed to bring good luck in love, life and business. In countries where the average wage is just $10 a year, the payment of up to $75,000 for a full set of albino body parts means there are many people willing to perform extremely cruel acts of amputation and murder without thinking twice. One in twenty-thousand babies are usually born with albino skin world-wide, but this rare pigment deficiency is eight times more common in East Africa.

Albino children are abandoned, shunned and sometimes worse by their families who are afraid and ashamed. They often have no choice other than to abandon their families and homes to take refuge in camps created for their protection as albino children. This terrible behaviour is encouraged by superstitions that insinuate that having albino children living under your roof brings very bad luck and a curse, and in some areas, one albino child can create a stigma on the whole family.

Dr Sam Spence, previously a student at Bolton School Girls’ Division, recently started working at the University of Bolton after working at Lancaster University, where her research focused on contemporary witchcraft accusations and persecutions of vulnerable groups, such as women, children and persons with albinism. Her career as a lecturer began after receiving a first class LLB (Hons) Law degree and an LLM (Research) from Edge Hill University before completing a PhD in Law at Lancaster University.

Dr Spence has previously worked with two organisations – the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network, where she had an internship, and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, where she co-authored a report on witch-killings in Nepal that was presented to the Nepalese government in 2014. These two organisations remain instrumental in challenging the issues discussed above.
Dr Sam Spence has written a book titled ‘Witchcraft Accusations and Persecutions as a Mechanism for the Marginalisation of Women.’ The book draws on feminist commentary from the disciplines of anthropology, history, law, politics and sociology in order to deal with the phenomenon of modern-day witchcraft. The book addresses the return of witchcraft beliefs to contemporary society, whilst assessing the effectiveness of international human rights law in protecting women from witchcraft accusations and persecution.

By Francesca Bury

To find out more about Dr Sam Spence’s book, please visit:

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