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Ghana: People with Disabilities Freed from Chains

Invest in Voluntary Mental Health Services and Support in Communities

(Accra, July 7, 2017) – The Mental Health Authority of Ghana has taken steps to release 16 people, including two girls, held in shackles at Nyakumasi Prayer Camp, a spiritual healing center in the Central Region. Those freed, some of whom have mental health conditions, were taken to nearby Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital on June 30, 2017.

The government should adopt and enforce a ban on shackling, said a coalition of nongovernmental and advocacy groups including MindFreedom Ghana, Mental Health Society of Ghana, Basic Needs, Law and Development Associates, Human Rights Watch, CBM, and Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. The focus now should be on investing in appropriate community-based services to support people with mental health conditions to live full and independent lives in the community and ensuring that any mental health services are based on each individual’s free and informed consent.


“Shackling people because of a real or perceived mental health condition is no way to treat a fellow human being,” said Dan Taylor, director of MindFreedom Ghana.“People with psychosocial disabilities deserve the same rights and dignity as anyone else. And this will require the government and donors to invest in support services at the community level.”

On June 23, the Mental Health Authority met with people from groups representing people with disabilities, other nongovernmental groups, mental health professionals, human rights experts, religious leaders, and traditional healers to discuss proposed guidelines in mental health care for traditional and faith-based healers.

In a meeting with Human Rights Watch in April, the head of the Mental Health Authority, Dr. Akwasi Osei, pledged to step up its efforts to address human rights abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities. These efforts will include adopting these guidelines and setting up regular monitoring visits to some of Ghana’s prayer camps.

With support from the UK Department for International Development, the Mental Health Authority has visited some prayer camps and pushed to end the practice of shackling people with psychosocial disabilities.

“The consequences of not providing support in the community are dire,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to work with its international partners, such as the UK, to make sure that those who are freed from shackles can get voluntary mental health care, housing and independent living support, and job training.”

In an April visit to Nyakumasi Prayer Camp in Cape Coast region, Human Rights Watch found more than more than 15 people in shackles. These included a 12-year-old girl who had an intellectual disability and did not speak. The staff did not even know her name. Another girl, 15, said her mother brought her to the camp because she wanted to run away from home. “I’ve been chained here for two months,” she said. “I never left this place. I bathe, eat, and sleep here. That’s what I do daily. I would rather go to school.”


This girl was among 16 people with real or perceived mental health conditions released from shackles in Nyakumasi Prayer Camp, in Central Region, Ghana, on June 30, 2017.  © 2017 Shantha Rau Barriga/Human Rights Watch © 2017 Shantha Rau Barriga/Human Rights Watch

In visits to Ghana in 2013 and 2015, the United Nations expert on torture, Juan Mendez, documented cases of shackling and denial of food and water to people with psychosocial disabilities in prayer camps, including children as young as 7. International law does not permit restraining people on the grounds that they have a disability. Human Rights Watch issued a report in 2012 with similar findings.

Human Rights Watch also found that thousands of people with psychosocial disabilities are forced to live in psychiatric hospitals and prayer camps, often against their will, subject to involuntary treatment and with little possibility of challenging their confinement or treatment.

Ghana’s Mental Health Authority was created under the Mental Health Act of 2012; and it was inaugurated in November 2013. While the act requires the government to set up regional mental health committees responsible for monitoring mental health facilities across the country, they are yet to be established. There is an urgent need for government oversight of prayer camps and mental hospitals where people with mental health conditions are suffering horrific abuse, the coalition said.

Parliament should adopt the Legislative Instrument to enable the government to implement the Mental Health Act as a matter of priority, the coalition said.

Mendez, the UN expert on torture, and Human Rights Watch have called for prohibiting chaining and other forms of prolonged restraint. In his 2013 report, Mendez called for “an absolute ban on all coercive and non-consensual measures, including restraint and solitary confinement of people with psychological or intellectual disabilities, [that] should apply in all places of deprivation of liberty, including in psychiatric and social care institutions.”

“People with psychosocial disabilities need support, not shackling and forced treatment,” said Diana Samarasan, Founding Executive Director of the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. “The government of Ghana and its international partners should put adequate resources into community-based services that respect the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities to live in the community with the support they need.”

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