Faith-based healers still chain persons with psychological disabilities

Accra, Dec 3, GNA –
Faith-based and traditional healing centres in Ghana continue to hold
people with real or perceived mental health conditions in chains in inhumane
conditions despite a 2017 ban on such treatment, Human Rights Watch has said.

The international
human rights organisation has therefore called on authorities to enforce the
ban on chaining and provide community-based services to persons with
psychosocial disabilities.

Human Rights Watch
(HRW) said people remained unchained in Nyankumasi prayer camp, where officials
from the Ghana Mental Health Authority sawed the chains off the 16
residents in 2017.

“People with
psychosocial disabilities are still chained like animals,” Shantha Rau Barriga,
disability rights director at HRW, said in a statement copied to the Ghana News

“If the government
wants its ban on chaining to be effective, it needs to ensure that these chains
come off and develop local mental health services that respect the rights of
people with mental health conditions,” she added.

According to the
statement, from November 4 to 8, 2019, HRW interviewed 25 people, including;
people with psychosocial disabilities, mental health professionals, staff at
prayer camps and traditional healing centres, mental health advocates,
religious leaders, and two senior government officials.

Of the six prayer
camps or traditional healing centres across Ghana’s Greater Accra, Eastern, and
Central regions that HRW visited, dozens of people were chained in two

The statement said
at both centres, men detained there called out to the HRW, begging to be
released, noting that in one traditional healing centre, HRW found 16 men in a
dark, stifling room, all of them with short chains, not longer than half a
meter, around their ankles.

They called out: “We
are suffering here. They are abusing our human rights. Please help us. Please
help us.”

“The chaining of
people with mental health conditions needs to stop – it needs to stop,” Ghana’s
Deputy health minister, Mrs Tina Mensah, was quoted by HRW.

But also noted: “You
can see that there have been improvements since the last time you were here.
That means the people are taking up the challenge and improving some of the

“But we need to
still do more. We have to sensitise the people, educate them on the rights of
every individual. They cannot chain people in this way.”

People with real or
perceived mental health conditions continue to be confined in cages in prayer
camps and traditional healing centres that they were rarely allowed to leave.

They are forced to
urinate or defecate in small buckets placed outside their cells.

“Most cages are so
narrow that the men cannot even stretch out their arms,” the statement added

“In two other
facilities, people with mental health conditions are not chained, but the head
of each camp explained that they are denied food for up to seven days, based on
the belief that fasting will enable them to use worship and prayers to heal

The Head of Ghana’s
Mental Health Authority, Dr. Akwasi Osei, announced on World Mental Health Day
in 2017 that the government would enforce the 2012 Mental Health Act,
which prohibits inhumane treatment of people with mental health problems.

The act states in
part that people with psychosocial disabilities “shall not be subjected to
torture, cruelty, forced labour and any other inhuman treatment,” including;
shackling, saying: “illegal to put anyone in chains.”

Most families take
people with such conditions to faith-based or traditional healers because of
widely held beliefs that such disabilities were caused by a curse or evil

Other people may
have been using drugs such as marijuana, while some victims were outcasts
because of so-called deviant behaviour.

The statement quoted
the Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister, Mrs Cynthia Morrison, as
having pledged that: “I give you my commitment right now, and I’m sure we’ll
bring an end to it.

“We need to talk to
the families and make sure that they are ready to receive them because if the
family refuses to receive them, where do they go,” she added.

But the head of
another centre, Doctor Jesus Prayer Camp, told Human Rights Watch that they did
not chain anyone because they were aware of the national ban.

In February 2019,
the World Health Organisation initiated, with the support of the UK’s
development agency, its Quality Rights initiative in Ghana, an
e-learning programme aimed at training at least 5,000 people on ways to improve
the quality of mental health services and ensure respect for human rights,
including; obtaining informed consent from the person involved.

HRW said most of
them had completed the training, but believed that there was a shift in the
attitudes and practices of staff in Accra Psychiatric Hospital and among mental
health professionals who administer medication to people in some prayer camps.

A nurse who works at
Tetteh Quarshie Regional Hospital said: “Mental health is not just about taking
medication. ‘Take your drug. Take your drug.’ Trying to force medication is not
right. There is more to it.”

Another nurse at
Accra Psychiatric Hospital said: “Try to talk to the patient, to find out how
you could help the patient – or what the patient thinks could be done to help
them to get out of an aggressive mood. It’s possible to do without seclusion.”

A number of efforts
led by local Non-Governmental Organisations, especially groups of people with
psychosocial disabilities, are underway.

MindFreedom Ghana
has teamed up with the Human Rights Advocacy Centre to conduct human rights
training for psychiatric nurses and traditional healers.

organisation, Basic Needs Ghana, was facilitating peer support groups, while
Mental Health Society of Ghana was working with Time to Change in the United
Kingdom to combat stigma and challenge stereotypes by highlighting the
experiences of people with mental health conditions, families, especially
through social media.

Despite this
progress, HRW urged the government to take further steps to end shackling by
setting up the Visiting Committees outlined in the Mental Health Act to monitor
prayer camps and traditional healing centres to enforce the ban, and by
investing in community mental health services that respect human rights.

The government
should also ensure that people with psychosocial disabilities get adequate
support for housing, independent living, and job training and follow through on
commitments to sensitise the public and combat the stigma associated with the

“Government needs to
set up the levy envisaged under the 2012 Mental Health Act to fund mental
health services as a matter of priority.”


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