Tag Archives: autism

UNTV looks at Paraguay’s mental health crisis

I just watched a clip on CNN international/UNTV about two young men, Julio and Jorge, in Paraguay who were locked up for years in a psychiatric institution. They’ve got autism and because of this, receive no treatment for their illnesses and are shut away from society like unruly, wild animals.

The images shown in the video left me with a grimace, furrowed brow and a sick feeling in my stomach. They showed the two men in their cells, completely naked, where they lived all alone for 23 hours a day, in the same space where they defecated and urinated. One clip shows a nurse feeding Julio with a spatula through the bars of the cell like a circus tiger.

I don’t think you need to be a gung-ho activist to see that this is an enormous violation of human rights. Apparently Paraguay doesn’t have the money to provide for cases like this, and sadly many impoverished countries are stuck in the same situation, with no resources or humane options for the mentally ill. Parents, poor and desperate, turn to the government who then put the children into these prison-like conditions.

Here are some quotes from Alison Hillman, a Mental Disability Rights International lawyer who discovered the two men and has worked to get them out of their predicament:

“They were both detained in tiny isolation cells that might have been 6 feet by 6 feet in size, naked, without access to bathrooms; they slept and ate and resided in the very same space that they defecated and urinated.  They were taken out of their cells to be hosed off.

“… We’ve found really the same conditions everywhere.  The same conditions of isolation, seclusion, segregation from the community and when you have a locked institution, whether it’s an orphanage or a psychiatric hospital or a prison ward, you find abuse, neglect, children tied to beds.  When people are locked away from society, they’re really invisible.”

Jorge’s mother said that the institution told her that her son was of no use to society and needed to be locked away. But, they told her, she could visit him whenever she liked. How sweet.

There’s much more to the story but I don’t want to give it all away. You can download the video onto Real Player here:

http://www.un.org/av/unfamily/21stcentury_24.html

And to think we have been wasting the last few days getting Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others’ opinions on Obama’s mild crack about the Special Olympics when important things like this are actually going on in the world. Geez.

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