Shackled and locked up, Cambodia’s mentally ill languish in limbo

The slender 15-year-old shifts restlessly from one knee to the other on the wooden floor of his family’s houseboat. He has just finished a dinner of rice and fish, but he can’t play with the other children: His ankle is shackled, and he can move only within a three-foot radius.

“Our boy has a mental problem,” said his mother, Seam, a shy woman in her early 40s with long hair and a broad smile. “We put him in chains because he likes to smell gasoline, and when he does that too much, he damages his health. So we need to keep him from getting out.”

With seven other children to manage and no mental health clinic in their area, Seam, who asked not to be identified by her full name or her son’s for fear of retribution from the community, said she had no other choice.

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