From Taboo to Advocacy

Kenyan Voices for Suicide Decriminalization

Not long ago, I stumbled upon a social media post on X (formerly Twitter) championing the idea of decriminalizing suicide. Intrigued by this perspective, I delved into research on the topic. Here, I offer some key findings and insights stemming from my investigation.

The problem

The issue of suicide represents the culmination of unresolved internal and mental turmoil within an individual. This tragic occurrence not only claims lives but also inflicts lasting trauma upon affected families. This phenomenon is viewed through both cultural and medical lenses, impacting people across Africa and the globe.

Cultural Perspective

In numerous African communities, suicide is often regarded as a curse linked to malevolent spirits. In Chinua Achebe\’s \’Things Fall Apart,\’ Okonkwo\’s suicide resulted in a disgraceful burial, as it was deemed shameful. Various communities believe that only bewitched individuals would take their own lives. Christianity, followed by a significant portion of Africa\’s population, condemns suicide as a sin, emphasizing the sanctity of life and God\’s role in giving and taking it.

Such misconceptions have fostered stigmatization of suicide

The origin of criminalization of suicide

In Kenya, as stipulated in Section 226 of the penal code, attempting suicide is categorized as a misdemeanor, subject to a two-year prison sentence, a fine, or both, in accordance with Section 36 of the penal code. This law is often seen as a vestige of British colonial rule in Kenya. Globally, more than 20 countries still consider suicide a criminal offense, with some of these laws dating back over 160 years.

Why was suicide criminalized?

Our analysis suggests that this might have aimed to deter individuals from contemplating suicide. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, it has proven ineffective in addressing the global mental health crisis or reducing suicide rates. In fact, the grim reality is that over 700,000 lives are lost to suicide annually.

The impact: Key points

The practice of criminalizing suicide has yielded little benefit throughout history. Instead, it has hindered our ability to address mental health issues effectively. Treating suicide as a crime unjustly discriminates against those struggling with internal pain, in desperate need of support.

Such an approach represents society\’s evasion of responsibility, transforming victims into offenders, rather than fostering an environment of compassion and psychological assistance.

Will decriminalizing suicide actually end it?

While eliminating the law won\’t instantaneously eradicate mental health disorders, it represents a crucial stride in fostering a conducive atmosphere for addressing these challenges. Abolishing the law signifies progress in cultivating a supportive framework to tackle mental health issues effectively, even though it may not offer a cure-all solution.

Efforts of decriminalizing suicide globally

Ghana is leading the the African campaign to eliminate the law, with Pakistan, Guyana, and Malaysia also actively engaged. Petitions challenging the law are underway in Kenya and Uganda, and the UN Group of Small Island Developing States stands firmly behind this effort. Ongoing discussions in Nigeria and Bangladesh further fuel the global movement for change.

Why it is important to abolish the law

At MuemAction Post, we contend that the current legislation has proven inadequate in tackling the pressing issues surrounding suicide and mental health. Eliminating this law will grant individuals greater access to vital mental health care and assistance. Moreover, its removal will facilitate the development of policies and institutions aimed at addressing mental health issues at the grassroots level, instead of unfairly assigning blame to those who are suffering.

Despite prevailing cultural beliefs and perceptions, it is imperative that we liberate ourselves and take action to safeguard our society.

What we need to do

Firstly, the elimination of laws criminalizing suicide is essential. Secondly, comprehensive policies should be established to foster mental health care and support across all aspects of life. Additionally, increased resources must be allocated to mental health care, demonstrating compassion for those grappling with mental health issues.

While there has been notable efforts by the government including the formation of a Mental Health taskforce, whose key recommendation was to declare mental illness a National Emergency of epidemic proportions, more needs to be done and implemented to rescue our people

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