Attempted suicide and Kenyan law

Today, 10th of October is World mental health day. In a country like Kenya, with high rates of infectious diseases, were 1.5 million people are pushed into extreme poverty every year due to health costs, mental health problems are not seen as conditions requiring medical care. After all, most mentally unwell people are physically, very able.

 A lot of things get handled badly. Mentally unwell people are often labeled as ‘demon possessed’. I could go on about that one.

But one mental health issue that disturbs me is the way the Kenyan law handles attempted suicide. I wrote about this in an article published in DN2 in the national paper, Daily Nation in 2011


In this article, I questioned the justice of jailing a person who attempts suicide. It arose after I saw this tiny article stashed in the corner of a daily paper.


 John Gichuki Wachira was jailed for 3 years in 2011 for attempting suicide. There was no public outcry about this injustice. Research has shown over again that those who have attempted suicide once, do attempt it again and often die as a result. People who have attempted suicide are at a low point in their lives. Many young people who are going through a low point in their lives, see death as the only way out. Out of impulse, they attempt suicide, not able to see that their situation is temporary. But there are also those who are seriously depressed and plan their exit carefully. Whatever the course taken, anyone who attempts suicide needs help, not jail.

 A few days ago on the 8th October 2013, a young man called Kelvin attempted to throw himself down a 5-storey building. He was captured on camera


 The next day, he was arraigned in court, charged with attempted suicide.


Jail does not deal with the underlying problems and only adds to people’s shame and guilt. But under the Kenyan law, Kelvin is a criminal. According to the Kenyan law: The penal code, chapter 63 , Under Chapter XX1: Offences connected with murder and suicide

‘Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour.’

 This is an archaic law that needs to be changed. To put attempted suicide and murder in the same line is unhelpful, to say the least. Any person who attempts to kill himself is unwell. Period. Unwell people need treatment, not jail.