UN committee concerned about abuse of women with mental disabilities in Moldova

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has expressed concerns about the abuse of women in psychiatric hospitals in Moldova. The concerns were raised with representatives of the Moldovan government as the Committee reviewed the country’s most recent reports under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Chisinau psychiatric hospital where MDAC noted serious overcrowding, the use of restraints and seclusion for those who complained.

The Committee also questioned whether the issue of forced abortions conducted on women in the Balti psychiatric institution had been investigated. Although representatives for the Moldovan government said that psychiatric care in the country was undergoing reforms, they failed to respond to this specific issue. The Committee then turned its attention to the widespread discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities across the country, pointed out by many NGOs including MDAC. The Committee noted that a “cultural system of guardianship” operates in the country, effectively placing many women under the authority of their husbands.

Ms Doina Ioana Străisteanu, the Institutional Ombudsperson of Psychiatric Institutions in Moldova recently uncovered a series of rape cases that were being committed by staff against which female residents for years. Two criminal cases are currently pending in domestic courts. 

In 2010 and 2012, MDAC conducted monitoring visits to psychiatric and social care in Moldova and documented widespread human rights violations including the use of forced psychiatric treatment, overcrowding, the use of restraints and seclusion techniques to control detainees, and a worrying lack of oversight. We also uncovered evidence of violations based on gender including the use of forced abortions, a high prevalence of sexual violence and degrading conditions including a lack of toilet paper, tampons and pads for female residents. These findings were summarised in a written submission made by MDAC to the Committee in preparation for the current review.

 In 2013 MDAC carried out training for people with disabilities to be effective monitors of these places of detention, and staff visited the Chisinau psychiatric hospital. You can read our Executive Director’s blog on the training here.

The comments of the CEDAW Committee come soon after a visit to Moldova conducted by Ms Maria Sepúlveda, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. She expressed concern about the large numbers of people with disabilities who are automatically excluded from society on the basis of their disability status, and highlighted the effects of multiple discrimination faced by woman with disabilities.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations on its review of Moldova later this month. MDAC encourages the Committee to seize the opportunity to advance its jurisprudence by making the link between gender-based violence and the practice of institutionalisation of women with disabilities. We would also welcome the CEDAW Committee making a direct link to the process of deinstitutionalisation required by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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