Kenyans who survive attempted suicide may receive health support instead of serving a jail term if a proposal by Chief Justice Martha Koome sails through.
In the Penal Code (Amendment) 2023, the Chief Justice proposed repealing section 226 of the Penal Code which classifies attempted suicide as a misdemeanor.
“Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor,” reads the Penal Code.
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.
National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula addresses the 13th Parliament on September 19, 2022.
Parliament of Kenya
According to the Act, any individual found guilty of attempting suicide risked a jail term of up to two years or a fine or both.
The provision had for years angered lobby groups which argued that jailing individuals for attempting suicide amounted to punishing people suffering from mental illness.
At the beginning of the year, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) asked the Adhoc Committee on the Proliferation of Religious Organisations to decriminalise suicide attempts, which have been on the rise.
KNHRC argued that the individuals who attempt to kill themselves have mental illness and deserve to be taken for medical care.
Professor Mariam Mutugi, a commissioner, argued that the decision to arrest and arraign in court survivors of Paul Mackenzie’s Goodnews International Church was erroneous.
The Adhoc committee was investigating the Shakahola deaths when the submissions were made.
“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 of stable mind can never attempt to their lives. Rather than prosecute, people with suicidal tendencies should be taken to medical care facilities. They need help.”
The Global Mental Health Network, which works to promote mental health worldwide, was also enjoined in a petition filed by KNHRC to decriminalise suicide attempts.
Chief Justice Martha Koome reading her ruling on the BBI Appeal at the Supreme Court on March 31, 2022.