People with mental health issues are chained, subjected to hardship and abuse by health workers in Nigerian hospitals and rehabilitation centres, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Monday. The international rights group called on the Federal Government to ban chaining of psychiatric patients and ensure that those rescued had access to psychosocial support and social services.
HRW also asked the FG to urgently investigate chaining of people with mental issues in state-owned rehabilitation centres, psychiatric hospitals, and faith-based and traditional healing centres in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
In the last one month, over a thousand inmates of Islamic rehabilitation centres and traditional healing homes in Kaduna, Katsina, Kano and Oyo states were discovered to have been chained to objects in unsanitary conditions. HRW said, “In psychiatric hospitals and government-run rehabilitation centres, staff forcibly administered medication, while some staff admitted to administering electroconvulsive therapy to patients without their consent.
“In some cases, families took their children – including young adults – to religious and traditional rehabilitation centres for actual or perceived drug use or ‘deviant’ behaviour, including skipping school, smoking tobacco or marijuana, or stealing from their parents. Some children in the facilities – some as young as 10 – have been abandoned by their families.”
The group noted President Muhammadu Buhari’s condemnation of human rights violations at Islamic rehabilitation centres, but slammed the government for failing “to acknowledge that this abuse was rife in government facilities too”.
“People with mental health conditions should be supported and provided with effective services in their communities, not chained and abused,” a senior disability rights researcher at HRW, Emina Cerimovic, said.
She added, “People with mental health conditions find themselves in chains in various places in Nigeria, subject to years of unimaginable hardship and abuse.”
The group said it visited 28 facilities providing mental health care in eight states and the FCT, including federal psychiatric hospitals, general hospitals, state-owned rehabilitation centres, Islamic and traditional healing centres and churches, where it interviewed 124 people. Those interviewed included 49 chained victims, their family members and mental health professionals.
The non-governmental organisation said it found that people with actual or perceived mental health conditions, including children, were placed in facilities without their consent, usually by relatives.
It stated, “In some cases, police arrest people with actual or perceived mental health conditions and send them to government-run rehabilitation centres. Once there, many are shackled with iron chains, around one or both ankles, to heavy objects or to other detainees, in some cases for months or years.
“In a traditional healing centre close to Abuja, Human Rights Watch met a woman who was pinned to a tree trunk with an iron ring. She had been restrained like this for three weeks with her upper body naked. She was unable to move and so she was forced to eat, urinate, and defecate where she sat.”
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