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Jail Sentences To Be Removed for Attempted Suicide

Chief Justice Martha Koome proposed a bill that offers Kenyans who survive attempted suicide health support instead of serving a jail term.

Suicide proposal
Chief Justice Martha Koome. Photo/Courtesy

In the Penal Code (Amendment) 2023, Martha Koome proposed a repeal of Section 226 of the Penal Code. This section classifies attempted suicide as a misdemeanour. Consequently, a survivor of attempted suicide is charged in a court of law and could serve a jail sentence.

“Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor,” reads the Penal Code.

She forwarded the proposal to the National Assembly Speaker, Moses Wetangula. Within the proposal, she advocated for the amendment of the Principal Act by deleting this section completely.

In her proposal forwarded to National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula, the CJ advocated for amending the principal Act by deleting the section in its entirety.

At the start of the year 2023, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) requested that the Adhoc Committee on the Proliferation of Religious Organizations decriminalise suicide attempts. Their main reason behind it was the fact that these attempts have been on the rise recently and need to be dealt with instead of punished.

Part of the argument from the KNHRC was that the individuals who try to kill themselves suffer from a mental illness that needs to be cared for through medical care. Serving them with a misdemeanour and even a jail term, would only fuel the situation instead of deal with it.

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Shakahola Survivors

This matter came to light after the victims of the Shakahola cult were rescued. The survivors under Paul Mackenzie’s Good News International Church were found after subjecting themselves to starvation with the idea that when Jesus came back, they would be found pure and go to heaven. This act saw many people who were part of the cult die, and others suffered severe cases of malnutrition. Consequently, they were starving themselves, which could be counted as attempting suicide.

Paul Mackenzie is currently being held in prison, awaiting his trial and then sentencing. The victims, however, have given the justice system a hard time. Some claim that they committed attempted suicide and should be charged, while others mention they were being brainwashed and therefore suffering from mental illness.

The Adhoc Committee was investigating the Shakahola deaths when they made the submissions indicating mental illness.

“Science has confirmed that individuals who attempt to end their lives have mental illness,” Mutugi told the committee.

“The same science has approved that a person with a stable mind can never attempt to live their lives. Rather than prosecute, people with suicidal tendencies should be taken to medical care facilities. They need help,” he added.

The Global Mental Health Network also joined the petition filed by KNHRC to decriminalize suicide attempts. The Global Health Network works to promote mental health worldwide, including for victims of suicide attempts.

If the proposal sails through, then the victims of suicide attempts would face treatment and medical care rather than sentencing in court. This would help in the reduction of suicide cases since people would receive treatment.

Read Also: Shakahola Victims Turned Suspects: Attempted Suicide


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