Decriminalization of Attempted Suicide Urged in Malawi

LifeLine ANPPCAN Malawi, a member of Lifeline International which focuses on mental health, has asked Malawi government to decriminalize attempted suicide.

Country Deputy Director of Lifeline ANPPCAN Malawi, Henderson Mhango made the call in an interview with the publication on Tuesday.

Mhango said suicide is a mental health issue thereby criminalizing it denies people a right to access health services.

He further said his organisation will soon start engaging stakeholders on advocacy and community mobilization as one way of pushing for the decriminalization of suicide in Malawi.

In Malawi, attempting suicide is illegal under Section 229 of the Penal Code and the offence attracts a maximum of two years in prison.

On October 26, LifeLine International through its members across the global launched a suicide decriminalization campaign where the first phase in African content will focus in two countries namely Malawi and Nigeria.

At the launch Lifeline International African Coordinator, Professor Taiwo Lateef Sheikh called on African governments to accelerate progress, decriminalize suicide, and implement prevention measures.

“The decriminalization of suicide in Africa is an urgent priority given the number of archaic laws that need to be repealed on the continent. Criminalization is the opposite of compassionate care and does not deter suicide attempts, nor does it address the underlying issues of suicide ideation.

“It goes against Africa’s cultural and religious values, which emphasise empathy and understanding,” said Sheikh.

Recently, Member of Parliament for Lilongwe South Peter Dimba asked parliament to decriminalize attempted suicide.

In his wisdom, Dimba said people involved in attempted suicide tend to be mentally unstable and deserving support and not punishment.

“For a person to get to a point of trying to eliminate their life it means mentally they were disturbed due to various reasons and therefore I would urge government to amend the Penal Code so that suicide attempt should not be criminal,” said Dimba as quoted by Nation Online

In at least 17 countries, according to Guardian Newspaper, suicide remains a criminal offence – a ‘huge barrier’ to mental health care, reports the Guardian newspaper.

Research shows that in countries where suicide has been decriminalized, people can seek help for mental health and rates tend to then decline.

In the first half of this year, Malawi registered 256 suicide cases, an increase from the 135 registered during the same period in 2022. Out of the number 226 are male and 30 are female.

LifeLine International is a global civil society organisation whose members work to prevent suicidal deaths by reducing the stigma of suicide and increasing awareness and support for people in crisis worldwide through the delivery of crisis helplines.

The organisations support the establishment of frameworks for suicide prevention and evidence-based suicide prevention interventions within communities in partnership with local players, and campaign to change the law in countries where suicide remains a crime, and wherever other laws restrict access to life-saving help.

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