If Human Rights Watch makes a number of recommendations to the government of Togo regarding the treatment of people with mental disabilities, it is because these horrible practices are unfortunately very real in the West African country and many other countries.

This may not be news to anyone who has ever visited a traditional or religious healing center for people with mental disabilities in Ghana, Togo or some other African countries.

Our statements on local radios were sometimes described as lies. Today it is such an independent international organization which also reiterates the remark.

The pain we feel seeing our loved ones in chains becomes impetuous since we have no power to save them from the disease and by extension from the chains.

The causes


Generally, the inhumane practice of shackling exists due to insufficient support and mental health services as well as widespread beliefs that stigmatize people with psychosocial disabilities.

Chaining often occurs in homes because there are no services available in the community and families struggling to cope with the demands of caring for a parent with psychosocial disabilities may have the feeling that they have no choice but to chain them. Time periods range from days and weeks to months and even years.

In Africa, chaining is practiced in prayer camps and traditional healing centers, often run by self-proclaimed prophets. In some cases, people with psychosocial disabilities may be chained at home by loved ones, due to the lack of mental health support and services in the community.

This is the case, among others, of a large prayer camp in the plateau region of Togo. The condition of the patients is unbearable in this camp founded by a popular Togolese pastor.

When we arrived on the scene in 2021, we withdrew from taking pictures, especially since among these patients there are some who did not cover their bodies well.

Since my family members decided to bring my mom there, I felt sorry for my mom until her last day on this earth. I think that death rather saved her,” lamented Bella, a young Togolese woman who was forced to attend these prayer sessions where her sick mother was tied until the last day of her last breath.

Recently, we have also noticed similar situations in the northern Regions of Ghana. Sometimes it is people deemed to be witches who are subjected to this abuse orchestrated by so-called spiritualists or traditional healers.

The impacts

As indicated by the Human Rights Watch, the nature of shackling means people live in very restrictive conditions that reduce their ability to stand or move. People chained to each other are often forced to go to the bathroom and sleep together.

Obstruction has an impact on a person’s mental and physical health. A chained person can be affected by post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, infections, nerve damage, muscle atrophy and cardiovascular problems.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has noted that chaining “unequivocally amounts to torture, even if committed by non-State actors in conditions in which the state knows them or should know them”.

With the latest reaction from Human Rights Watch, African states must take into consideration the recommendations of this international organization in order to reduce these abuses on the continent.

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