“It’s not how a human being is supposed to be. A human being should be free.
Hundreds of thousands of people with mental health conditions in 60 countries are still being shackled and chained, according to a comprehensive new study. The report includes field research and testimonies from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Palestine, the self-declared independent state of Somaliland, South Sudan, and Yemen.
Human Rights Watch says that men, women and children are regularly chained up or locked in confined spaces for weeks, months, and even years, across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.
The report, Living in Chains: Shackling of People with Psychosocial Disabilities Worldwide, reveals how people with mental health conditions are often shackled by their own families in their own homes or in overcrowded and unsanitary institutions because of widespread stigma and a lack of mental health services. Many are forced to eat, sleep, urinate and defecate in the same tiny area. In state-run or private institutions, as well as traditional or religious healing centres, they are shackled for restraint or punishment and often forced to fast, take medications or herbal concoctions and face physical and sexual violence.
Shackling is typically practised by families who believe that mental health conditions are the result of evil spirits or an individual having sinned. People often first consult faith or traditional healers and only seek mental health services as a last resort. Shackling is typically practised by families who believe that mental health conditions are the result of evil spirits or an individual having sinned. People often first consult faith or traditional healers and only seek mental health services as a last resort.
“Shackling people with mental health conditions is a widespread, brutal practice that is an open secret in many communities,” said Kriti Sharma, senior disability rights researcher at HRW and author of the report. “People can spend years chained to a tree, locked in a cage or sheep shed because families struggle to cope and governments fail to provide adequate mental health services...It’s horrifying that hundreds of thousands of people around the world are living in chains, isolated, abused, and alone,” Sharma said. “Governments should stop brushing this problem under the rug and take real action now.”
Globally, an estimated 792 million people, or one in 10, including one in five children, have a mental health condition. Yet governments spend less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health. More than two-thirds of countries do not reimburse people for mental health services in national health insurance systems. Even when mental health services are free or subsidised, distance and transport costs are significant barriers.