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‘Living in hell’: mentally ill people in Indonesia chained and confined

Almost 40 years after Indonesia banned the practice of shackling people withmental health conditions, nearly 19,000 are still living in chains, or are locked up in institutions where they are vulnerable to abuse, according to a new report fromHuman Rights Watch (HRW).


The study says that although pasung – shackling or confining people with psychosocial disabilities – was banned in 1977, enduring stigma and a chronic lack of mental health care and community support services mean its use remains widespread.

People subjected to pasung can have their ankles bound with chains or wooden stocks for hours, days, months or even years. They are often kept outside, naked and unable to wash.

Recent figures from the Indonesian government suggest that more than 57,000 people in Indonesia have endured pasung at least once, while an estimated 18,800 are currently chained or locked up.

In 2014, 1,274 cases of pasung were reported across 21 provinces and people were rescued in 93% of cases. There is, however, no data on how many of those were successfully rehabilitated and how many were later returned to their shackles.

HRW researchers spoke to one man who kept his daughter shackled for 15 years because he feared she had been bewitched and didn’t have the money to take her to a doctor.

“She became destructive, dug up other people’s crops and ate raw corn from the plant. I was ashamed and scared she’d do it again,” he said.

“First I tied her wrist and ankles together with cables but she managed to untie herself so I decided to lock her up because the neighbours were scared.”

Although he released his daughter two months after the visit from HRW, he told the group that, for a decade and a half, she had been left to defecate in her room, which was never cleaned. She was not bathed in all that time, and was neither clothed nor visited. Her only contact with the outside world, beyond the meals pushed twice daily through a hole in the wall, came


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