Mutilated to supply human flesh
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Mutilated to supply human flesh

Body parts are in demand in the black magic medicine markets of Africa, writes Gavin du Venage in Maputo, Mozambique

The Australian/August 25, 2004

IT took two grown men to hold a screaming 10-year-old Samuel Luis down as they cut off his genitals.

They wanted to take his heart as well but a neighbour heard his shrieks and chased his attackers away.

Samuel is one of the few survivors of a muti (traditional medicine) attack that is motivated by the belief that human organs make potent traditional cures and spells for a variety of ailments, from impotence to poverty.

"The first time I saw something like this I cried, but eventually one gets used to it," said Alice Mabota, president of the Maputo-based Human Rights League, an organisation at the forefront of the fight against the practice.

Samuel sits quietly next to her, his dark eyes blank. He talks in a quiet murmur, in halting Portuguese with Ms Mabota to translate. He is skinny, like most 10-year-olds, and in all respects normal.

It is when Ms Mabota asks him to drop his pants, because, she says, "nobody really believes this happens until they see this," that the horror of what befell him is apparent.

An angry scar marks where his penis should be. "Look at this boy," she spits, her voice harsh with rage.

Samuel stares straight ahead until a few seconds later Ms Mabota tells him gently to dress again.

"This is what is happening and nothing is being done to stop those responsible."

Muti traders kill hundreds in southern Africa each year.

Last year the UN Human Rights Commission issued a report citing widespread muti killings in neighbouring South Africa and other parts of the continent, including Mozambique. Samuel, who has undergone months of painful surgery and learnt to control his bladder again, is proof that for some the potions concocted from body parts are anything but lucky.

"He knows what has happened to him, but is a very brave boy. He believes one day he will be healed," Ms Mabota says. "He's had to miss school because his friends are frightened of his injury. They have shunned him so his parents had to keep him at home."

Samuel is relatively fortunate.

A Portuguese specialist has agreed to operate on him and recreate his penis. Plans are being made to fly him as soon as possible to Lisbon, where he will undergo at least a year of reconstructive surgery and physiotherapy.

Until recently, organ trafficking in Mozambique was whispered about, but never conclusively documented.

Last year nuns with one of the oldest Catholic charities, Servants of Mary Immaculate, came forward with claims that dozens of children in the northern city of Nampula had been abducted and killed for their organs.

One nun, Sister Maria Elilda dos Santos, was forced to flee after she received death threats.

Another, Doraci Edinger, was bludgeoned to death at her home in Nampula in March this year. "This is not confined to the city of Nampula -- it happens across the country but if it was not for the bravery of those nuns exposing this it would never have become public," Ms Mabota says. It is Mozambique's exploding population of unregistered AIDS orphans that makes the country such easy pickings for muti traders who can earn up to $US300 ($421) per organ.

According to UNAids, 300,000 orphans wander the countryside and city streets, begging for food or surviving on the mercy of relatives.

Half of the country's 18 million people live below the World Bank's poverty threshold of $US1 a day, so families are reluctant to assume care for orphaned relatives.

Without parents to protect them, orphans are easy pickings to "traders".

"When a child becomes an orphan it is up to relatives to provide for them," says Lea Baoventura, regional co-ordinator for Terre des Hommes, a Germany-based anti-trafficking organisation says. "For some, the burden is too great and they will sell them, or send them to live in the streets."

Carlos Manjate of the Anti-Child Trafficking Network, fighting to stop the smuggling of children for prostitution and low-paid work, says gangs that smuggle live humans for prostitution are not likely to stop at killing their victims when it becomes lucrative to do so.

"If live human beings can be smuggled across the border without any questions, so too can human body parts. Most smugglers begin helping friends and relatives get to South Africa for work but this 'passive smuggling' sometimes becomes a way of making a living," he says.

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