People With Mental Health Conditions Should Be Supported Not Abused–HRW
… Asks FG To Ban Chaining
…Investigates Psychiatric Hospitals, State-Owned Rehabilitation Centres, Faith-Based, Traditional Healing Homes
A Senior Disability Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch(HRW), Emina Ćerimović, has stated that people mental health conditions across Nigeria should supported and provided with effective services in their communities instead of chaining and abusing them.
According to HRW thousands of people with mental health conditions across Nigeria are chained and locked up in various facilities where they face terrible abuse.
“Detention, chaining, and violent treatment are pervasive in many settings, including state hospitals, rehabilitation centres, traditional healing centres, and both Christian and Islamic faith-based facilities.
“People with mental health conditions should be supported and provided with effective services in their communities, not chained and abused. People with mental health conditions find themselves in chains in various places in Nigeria, subject to years of unimaginable hardship and abuse,” Ćerimović said.
HRW recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had said in October 2019 while speaking on the Islamic rehabilitation centres that he would not “tolerate the existence of the torture chambers and physical abuses of inmates in the name of rehabilitation.”
HRW , however noted that the Federal government has not acknowledge that this abuse is rife in government-run facilities too.
The body added that between August 2018 and September 2019, Human Rights Watch visited 28 facilities ostensibly providing mental health care in 8 states and the Federal Capital Territory, including Federal Psychiatric Hospitals, general state hospitals, state-owned rehabilitation centres, Islamic rehabilitation centres, traditional healing centres, and Christian churches and that it interviewed 124 people, including 49 chaining victims and their families, staff in various facilities, mental health professionals and government officials.
The names of the victims, HRW said have been changed to protect their safety.
HRW stated that deep-rooted problems in Nigeria’s healthcare and welfare systems leave most Nigerians unable to get adequate mental health care or support in their communities.
It added that stigma and misunderstanding about mental health conditions, including the misperception that they are caused by evil spirits or supernatural forces, often prompt relatives to take their loved ones to religious or traditional healing places.
Human Rights Watch also discovered in the course of its interview that people with actual or perceived mental health conditions, including children, are placed in facilities without their consent, usually by relatives, adding that in some cases, police arrest people with actual or perceived mental health conditions and send them to government-run rehabilitation centres.
It posited that 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.
These victims, HRW said cannot leave and are often confined in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, and are sometimes forced to sleep, eat, and defecate within the same confined place and that many are physically and emotionally abused as well as forced to take treatments.
HRW stated that a nun in charge of a state-owned rehabilitation centre in Southeastern, Nigeria, when it visited the facility, said they chain people to their beds “so they do not run away.”
The group added that the nun defended chaining a woman who had HIV “to stop her from going around the men” and that the body also found another woman at the same institution chained naked to her bed.
HRW said that the staff, except one older guard, would leave at 6:30 p.m. each day, leaving residents, including children as young as 13, with no one to help them, stressing that facility has no electricity and that people are chained to their beds in total darkness.
“The patients are given flashlights to use at night,” the nun said.
Narrating further the abuse people with mental health conditions face, HRW said that in a traditional healing centre close to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, we met a woman who was pinned to a tree trunk with an iron ring and restrained like that for three weeks with her upper body naked.
The woman, HRW said was unable to move and was forced to eat, urinate and defecate where she sat.
According to HRW chaining can cause serious injuries and psychological distress and that a 35-year-old woman chained for 10 months in an Islamic rehabilitation centre in Kano, Northern Nigeria, said, “Everything about this (chaining) is difficult. You feel like you want to commit suicide … regardless of how you felt before coming here, you will get worse.”
HRW said that adults and children in some Islamic rehabilitation centres reported being whipped, causing deep wounds. People in Christian healing centres and churches described being denied food for up to three days at a time, which staff characterised as “fasting” for “treatment” purposes.
“In many of the traditional and religious rehabilitation centres visited, staff forced people with mental health conditions, including children, to eat or drink herbs, in some cases with staff pinning people down to make them swallow.
“In psychiatric hospitals and government-run rehabilitation centres, staff forcibly administered medication, while some staff admitted to administering electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to patients without their consent.
“In some cases, families took their children – including young adults – to religious and traditional rehabilitation centers for actual or perceived drug use or “deviant” behavior, 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,” HRW said.
Recalled that Nigeria, which ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007 has the obligation to ensure equal rights for people with disabilities, including the right to liberty and freedom from torture, ill-treatment, and forced treatment.
Similarly, the Nigerian Constitution prohibits torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment, but the government has not outlawed chaining.
A report by in 2015 by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture said that chaining “unequivocally amount[s] to torture.”
HRW called on the Nigerian government to ban chaining and urgently investigate chaining in state-owned rehabilitation centres, psychiatric hospitals, and faith-based and traditional healing centres in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
It also asked government to prioritize the development of quality, accessible, and affordable community-based mental health services.
According to Ćerimović, “President Buhari denounced chaining as torture. But it’s not enough to raid these centres and shut them down. People rescued from these desperate conditions and other Nigerians experiencing psychological distress should have access to proper psychosocial support and mental health services.”