Decriminalising suicide in Kenya – WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a policy aimed at initiating meaningful dialogue around the decriminalization of suicide and suicidal attempts.
Most countries including Kenya have criminalized suicide and/or suicide attempts with a report by the United for Global Mental Health highlighting that these countries imprison an individual for one or three years or even fine them if convicted of a suicide attempt.
According to the Kenyan law, anyone who attempts suicide is considered to have engaged in an illegal act. Chapter 63, Section 226 of the Penal Code stipulates that any person who attempts to kill himself or herself is guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty is up to two years in prison or a fine or both.
However, WHO notes that a critical consequence of criminalization is that people do not seek care and support due to the fear of legal consequences.
“The threat of legal sanction as well as actual imprisonment can have negative repercussions on an individual’s mental health as well as exacerbate suicide risk, leaving those who are incarcerated even more vulnerable,” it says.
Further, criminalization of suicide ostracizes bereaved families as funeral rites may not be performed, some communities may not allow the burial of the deceased in common burial grounds and families may be considered cursed and are thus shunned by their communities leading to stigma and discrimination.
“The criminalization of suicide constrains governments from taking positive action towards suicide prevention,” WHO said in their report.
On the flip side, decriminalization of suicide helps save lives and alleviates distress and harm faced by persons concerned and their families.
WHO argues that it reduces stigma and shame associated with suicide and mental health and creates possibilities for increased understanding around emotional distress.
“It leads to increased collection of accurate data on suicide and suicide attempts, which helps to inform appropriate interventions. And it enhances opportunities for awareness-raising and advocacy around suicide prevention.”
Statistically, one in every 100 deaths globally is by suicide with each year more than 700,000 people take their own lives. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds. In Kenya, the WHO data estimates that 408 people die by suicide yearly about four lives every day.