Kenya Psychiatric Association wants law criminalizing suicide repealed

The Kenya Psychiatric Association (KPA) is now calling for the repeal of section 226 of the penal code that criminalizes suicide. According to the association, the victims of suicidal thoughts required compassion and not jail terms as has been the case in the country. Ahead of the World marks suicide prevention day on Friday, mental health experts challenged parliament to move with haste and delete the section of the law. This emerged on Thursday during the KPA annual scientific conference in Lake Naivasha Resort where the main theme is ‘Suicide Prevention’.

According to the association President Dr Chitayi Murabula, several countries had already repealed laws that criminalized suicide. He challenged Kenya to emulate England, Finland, Netherlands and India which has noted that the law was defective and the victims needed mental support. “We are calling on parliament to move with haste and repeal section 226 that has seen tens of suicidal suspects jailed in the country,” he said. He said that the victims should not be punished adding that research had indicated that there were underlying mental illnesses among them.

“We are also developing a policy to prevent suicide cases in the country and to protect and treat those suffering from this illness,” he said. This was echoed by a member of the association Professor Lukoye Atwoli who said that cases of suicide should be de-linked from police and instead dealt with by health experts. “We should repeal this law as it condemns some sick people to prison which is very unfair as they require medical attention,” he said. Atwoli who is also the chairman of the board of Mathari hospital denied the suicide cases were on the rise adding that no study had been done to prove this.

“We have seen the media become more active in reporting these cases but there is no conclusive data to prove that they are on the rise as reported in some quarters,” he said. He said that they were working closely with the Media Council of Kenya on reporting of mental health and mainly on suicide prevention. The professor challenged the media to be more responsible in reporting suicide cases by avoiding gory details and illustrations as they ended causing more harm. On his part, Dr Frank Njenga who is the presidential advisor on mental health admitted that there was need for a research over the ongoing suicide cases. “We are not sure if the suicide and murder cases within family settings are related but there is an emerging trend that is worrying,” he said.