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Health

Hundreds of thousands of people shackled for mental health issues globally, Human Rights Watch says

ABUJA (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children with mental health conditions are living chained up in roughly 60 countries, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Without mental health support or awareness, families or institutions shackle people against their will - often believing their condition is because they are bewitched, possessed or have sinned - and leaving them eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating in one small space, the rights watchdog said in a report.

In the run-up to World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, the report documents almost 800 interviews describing how people with psychosocial disabilities in countries like China, Indonesia, Nigeria and Mexico can live shackled for years - chained to trees, locked in cages or imprisoned in animal sheds.

“We have found the practice of shackling across religions, social strata, economic classes, cultures and ethnic groups - it’s a practice that is found around the world,” said Kriti Sharma, senior disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, in an interview.

China’s foreign ministry and Mexico’s health ministry did not respond to emails seeking comment. Nigeria’s health ministry spokesman said ministers had not seen the report and declined to comment.

Indonesia’s government banned shackling of people with mental health conditions in 2019 and charges those who do it, said Harry Hikmat, a senior official at the Social Affairs Ministry.

In Nigeria last year, authorities’ raids on Islamic rehabilitation centres made global headlines after boys and men told of chains, beatings and sexual abuse.

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In state and private centres and traditional and religious institutions globally, handlers deny people food, force medications on them, and mete out physical and sexual violence, Human Rights Watch said.

These services can be “very profitable businesses,” Sharma said.

The watchdog said families often shackle loved ones out of fear they will escape and harm themselves or others.

“I stay in a small room with seven men,” a Kenyan man named Paul told Human Rights Watch.

“I’m not allowed to wear clothes, only underwear. I eat porridge in the morning and if I’m lucky, I find bread at night,” he said. “I’ve been chained for five years.”

Reporting by Paul Carsten in Abuja and Angela Ukomadu in Lagos; Additional reporting by Anthony Esposito in Mexico City and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta; Editing by Richard Pullin

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