News and Articles

World Mental Health Day: Human Rights Watch Launches Global Campaign to End Shackling of People with Psychosocial Disabilities

October 10, 2020

The Samuel Family Foundation and SCSC have long been engaged in a partnership with Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s Disability Rights Division over the last few years to document the impact of social isolation on people with disabilities and older people. SCSC supported the publication of two reports: improper social care assessments of older people in the United Kingdom and the use of chemical restraint on older people with dementia in Australia. SCSC Founder, Kim Samuel, and Senior Researcher at HRW’s Disability Rights Division, Emina Ćerimović, have also co-written an op-ed about the injustice of human chaining. Our Social Connectedness Fellows have worked with HRW over the years to better understand social isolation facing older women in the Canadian workforce, the experiences of migrants in the Canadian legal system, and Indigenous youth in the Canadian justice system. SCSC and HRW are also working to develop a new and positive vision for human rights centered around the Right to Belong.

Today is World Mental Health Day. Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch released a ground-breaking report that documents evidence of the practice of shackling of people with mental health conditions in over 60 countries, spanning across age groups, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic strata. Based on a study of 110 countries and interviews with over 350 people with psychosocial disabilities, the report shines a much-needed light on the conditions that hundreds of thousands of people with mental health conditions are forced to endure in the absence of government support and subsidized services in both developed and developing nations.

Although an estimated 792 million people around the world have a mental health condition, governments allocate less than 2% of their health budgets to mental health resources. Compounded by misinformation, fear, and stigma about mental health conditions, families who are worried that the individual might run away, hurt themselves, or hurt others, turn to shackling as a means of restraining them. This shackling often occurs in traditional or faith-based healing centres as well as state-run facilities, where people are forced to live in degrading conditions that restrict their ability to stand or move. At times, the individual is even shackled to another person with a mental health condition. Shackling can significantly erode both mental and physical health, potentially causing post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, infections, nerve damage, muscular atrophy, and cardiovascular problems.

Working in collaboration with mental health advocates and anti-torture organizations around the world, Human Rights Watch has launched a global #BREAKTHECHAINS campaign alongside the publication of their report to bring an end to the shackling of people with mental health conditions. We urge you to join us in taking action and making a pledge denouncing the inhumane practice of shackling individuals with mental health conditions by clicking here.

“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,” explains Kriti Sharma, Senior Disability Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, “dignity is denied.” In addition to being in violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, chaining is an inhumane denial of the individual’s basic need to belong and to connect meaningfully with the members of their community.

In order to eradicate practices that bring further isolation and harm, governments across the globe must reform health and social policy to better address the needs of people with disabilities, enabling them to live in dignity and in community. Research and advocacy plays a critical role in bringing about this transformative change. As a result of the pioneering work of Emina Ćerimović, Senior Researcher at HRW’s Disability Rights Division, and Hauwa Ojeifo, founder of She Writes Woman, on the issue of chaining in Nigeria, the current draft of the mental health bill includes  an explicit, legal ban on shackling. The government is yet to adopt the law.

To take action and make a pledge with the #BREAKTHECHAINS campaign denouncing the inhumane practice of shackling individuals with mental health individuals, click here. The full 59-page report is available at the following link: “Living in Chains: Shackling of People with Psychosocial Disabilities Worldwide.”