5-Year-Old Albino Girl Abducted, Beheaded in What Police Fear Was 'Ritual' Killing

In a killing that has sparked local and global outrage, armed men kidnapped and beheaded a 5 year old albino girl in Mali Sunday, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. Police suspect the early morning killing may have been a ritual murder due to the girl's rare genetic condition.

The AFP said the mother of Djeneba Diarra first tried to pursue the kidnappers after they scaled a wall at around 2 a.m. and took the girl, who was sleeping with her family about 75 miles north of Bamako, the capital of Mali. The mother eventually turned back to protect her other child, who also has albinism, according to the AFP. A village teacher told the news outlet that the girl's body was later found decapitated.

Community members who protested on Sunday told the news organization that it was a ritual killing, and that the perpetrators were likely harvesting the girl's body parts to use in a spiritual ritual ahead of a looming election on July 29. According to superstitious lore, the body parts of people with the condition are said to have magical properties.

"There is an increased demand for body parts of people with albinism in the lead-up to elections when people running for office—people who are wealthy and educated—may turn to witch doctors for good luck potions," according to Under The Same Sun, a leading nonprofit fighting against the discrimination of people with the condition.

Regardless of age or gender, albinistic people face prosecution because of their light skin color and unique features. In some cultures, specifically those in Sub-Saharan Africa, people with the genetic condition are dismembered and then used by witchdoctors for the creation of potions. Their body parts are sold on the black market for as much as $75,000, according to the World Health Organization. More than 100 people with the condition have been targeted and killed in Tanzania, Burundi, and other parts of Africa since 2001, according to conservative estimates from doctors studying the discrimination.

"Albinism has long been associated with stigma and superstitions, such as the belief that a white man impregnated the mother or that the child is the ghost of a European colonist," the report said. "Recently, a notion has emerged that albino body parts are good-luck charms or possess magical powers."

Between one in 5,000 people to one in 15,000 people have the condition in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the World Health Organization. Albinism results in the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes. Although the condition is recessive—meaning both parents must carry the gene that results in the condition—women are often shunned and exiled after giving to a baby with albinism.

Generally, those involved in the sale of body parts elude capture and are rarely tried.

"Few attackers and witchdoctors have been brought to trial, let alone convicted," reported Under The Same Sun, citing the United Nations. "Not one buyer in this macabre trade has ever been prosecuted."

Albino children take a break on January 25, 2009 in a recreational hall at the Mitindo Primary School for the blind, which has become a rare sanctuary for albino children. Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images