Health ministry urges lawmakers to repeal law criminalising suicide

By Nation Africa —

Kenya has been urged to repeal Section 226 of the penal code that criminalises attempted suicide.

Launching the Suicide Prevention Strategy 2021-2026, the Ministry of Health said their goal is to attain a 10 percent reduction in suicide mortality by the end of the year 2026.

“The strategic objectives that will be pursued to achieve the 10 percent reduction include strengthening supportive policy, legal and financing environment [and] advocating for decriminalisation of suicide by repealing Section 226 of the penal code,” the document says.

Speaking at the event, Health Director-General Patrick Amoth described the strategy as a defining moment for Kenya’s mental health services.

Intervention guidelines

Dr Linnet Ongeri, a psychiatrist and research scientist at Kemri who was the principal investigator and was one of 23 experts who designed the new suicide prevention strategy, explained that understanding how people conceptualise suicides is vital in enabling stakeholders to come up with apt policies and intervention guidelines.

She said some people look at suicides as a taboo subject while others see them as ‘acts of valour’.

“Ninety 90 per cent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental condition, which is why mental health services need to be affordable and accessible while gatekeepers like pastors and traditional healers need to be trained,” she said.

“We cannot neglect them because of our cultural beliefs.”

She explained that most people still find talking about suicide and their own suicidal thoughts uncomfortable, compounding stigma.

“I think to an extent because suicide is criminalised in this country, it adds to the stigma. A number of countries have actually decriminalised suicide because the fear of persecution has an impact on how we view suicides.”

Ms Stephanie Musho, a human rights lawyer, agreed with Dr Ongeri.