Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children with mental health conditions are living chained up in roughly 60 countries, Human Rights Watch said yestrday.
Without mental health support or awareness, families or institutions often shackle people against their will, leaving them eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating in one small space, the rights watchdog said in a report.
In the run-up to World Mental Health Day on Oct 10, Human Rights Watch's report documents through almost 800 interviews how people with psychosocial disabilities in countries like China, Nigeria and Mexico can live shackled for years - chained to trees, locked in cages, imprisoned in animal sheds.
"We have found the practice of shackling across religions, social strata, economic classes, cultures and ethnic groups - it's a practice that is found around the world," said Kriti Sharma, senior disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, in an interview.
Last year, Nigerian authorities' raids on Islamic rehabilitation centres for drugs and behavioural issues made global headlines after boys and men told of being shackled, kept naked, beaten and sexually abused.
But around the world, in state-run and private centres and traditional and religious healing institutions, handlers deny people food, force medications and herbal remedies on them, and mete out physical and sexual violence, Human Rights Watch said.
In many countries, these services are "very profitable businesses," Sharma said. The watchdog said families often shackle their loved ones out of fear they will escape and harm themselves or others.