2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 153

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The Honourable Leo Housakos, Speaker

The Senate

Motion to Take Note of Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association’s Resolution Concerning the Rights of Persons with Albinism Adopted

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I, too, rise today to speak on the motion regarding albinism. I support Senator Andreychuk’s motion and I thank her for introducing this motion. I also want to take this opportunity to thank her for co-chairing the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association for such a long time and for her work at the association. I want to thank Senator Munson for his work at the association, as well.

Honourable senators, as you are aware, I am a proud East African. When I was in school as a child in Uganda, I grew up noticing the stigma some of my schoolmates faced because they had albinism. At my school, we were taught very early what albinism is.

As you are aware, albinism is a genetic condition. It manifests as a partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. This is usually because their bodies are not able to produce normal amounts of melanin, the chemical that is responsible for our pigmentation.

Honourable senators, we all heard the gut-wrenching statements that were read by our colleagues last week and today. We all shared a similar reaction of dismay and pain. We were all troubled by the suffering that these individuals face, these children even, simply because they have albinism, simply because they have a genetic condition.

The abuse of these people is horrendous. My colleagues here related to you the challenges my fellow East Africans face because of albinism.

One of the reasons this issue has moved so rapidly and ferociously across Africa is the lack of understanding of what causes albinism. Because of this, I ask each of you to resolve to be committed to help educate our parliamentary colleagues in East Africa. Politicians in East Africa need to feel supported in their work on the ground, and this is important work that needs to be acted on immediately.

We have all experienced the process of changing our attitudes when we were educated on a particular issue. An example of such an elusive issue that was quite difficult to deal with at home here and in Africa was that of HIV/AIDS. Initially there was a lot of skepticism and avoidance from politicians when the epidemic began. Today, though not perfect, through large-scale educational efforts, AIDS is better understood and more people are able to come forward and get treatment because of it. There is now more help for AIDS victims and hopefully less stigma.

Honourable senators, I ask you to be committed to educating our political colleagues from East Africa. We all belong to many parliamentary associations, so I ask that we Canadian senators be instrumental in educating parliamentarians to help them stop the persecution of children with albinism. Why? Let me share a story.

Sabina Namigambo shared her sons’ story with the BBC last December. Her son, May, was only 4 years old when he managed to escape an attempted kidnapping. Sabina’s husband was out fishing and the attackers struck. Sabina jumped out of the window with May and they chased after her. They only gave up when her screaming managed to wake up the neighbours. Why were the kidnappers after May? Because May has albinism, and their local witch doctors claim that potions they make out of the body parts of albinos bring good fortune and wealth.

Another woman with albinism shared her fear, saying, “We are being killed like animals. Please pray for us.”

Mr. Namigambo’s contribution to the story is what struck me most, when he said:

The government once held seminars about albinism. It made a lot of difference, but they don’t do it anymore. We should urge the government to do more in educating the community here.

Honourable senators, local governments cannot headline educational initiatives unless they, too, are educated on these issues. We have the resources, we have the medical information, and we have the communication lines with our parliamentary colleagues. Let us step up and play a role in raising the education level on albinism. Let us help put an end to this senseless killing. Let us act now and help educate our fellow parliamentarians.

I would like to urge the Government of Canada and all of you here to help be instrumental in providing education to school authorities, especially in East Africa. Let us raise awareness that albinism is a disease and not a work of witchcraft. Let us make it a mantra that people can follow, that albinism is a disease worthy of protection.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Are honourable senators ready for the question?

Hon. Senators: Question.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

(Motion agreed to.)