Imposing prison sentences for attempted suicide will worsen suicide rate – Experts

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In this report by DAUD OLATUNJI, experts say punishing people for attempted suicide will worsen the dangerous trend in the country

Many years ago, attempted suicide was criminalized in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the available records revealed that the criminalization of attempted suicide neither discouraged victims of the disease from trying nor stopped the eventual commission of the act.

Recently, the Psychiatric Association of Nigeria sounded the alarm about the effects of criminalizing suicide attempts as a means of solving problems. He said the criminalization of suicide attempts has compounded the problem rather than solving it.

In 2021, a non-governmental organization, Suicide Research Prevention Initiative, sounded the alarm about the rising suicide rate in the country.

The organization lamented that the suicide cases come mainly from young adults, with an average age of 30, while the youngest victim was 12 and the oldest, 71.

And just last week, on March 8, a 300-level student from the University of Jos reportedly committed suicide because of the ongoing strike launched by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) across the country. .

Both the Criminal Code Act in the South and the Penal Code in the North consider those who attempt to end their lives to be misdemeanor offenders.

Article 327 of the Penal Code states that: “Anyone who attempts to commit suicide is guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for one year” while article 231 of the Penal Code states that: “Anyone who attempts to commit suicide and commits an act tending to the commission of such an offence, shall be punished by imprisonment for up to one year or by a fine or both”.

NPC Chairman Prof. Taiwo Obindo in his recent article protested against the continued criminalization of attempted suicide.

Obindo in the statement titled “No Need for Punishment but Treatment: Cases of Attempted Suicide in Nigeria” concluded that “attempted suicide should be completely removed from Nigerian law as a crime and treated as a psychosocial problem requiring human solution.

Obindo said supporters of the law believed it was best to criminalize the act as they feared doing otherwise would blow the case away. Supporters have also cited religious beliefs that discourage commission of the act.

But, in his view, Obindo blamed supporters on the grounds that there was no evidence that decriminalization increased suicide risk.

According to him, since the offender is aware that attempted suicide is a crime in case of failure, strenuous efforts will be made to ensure the absolute success of the attempt, thus further worsening the profile of suicidality in the country.

Apparently concerned about the legal approach to the issue, the House of Representatives on February 15, 2022, took a strong decision to replace a one-year prison sentence with community service and counseling as a form of punishment for attempted suicide.

The Bill to Amend the Criminal Code Act, Cap. C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, sponsored by a Member of the House, Francis Waive, passed the second reading.

The legislation is titled “Bill to Amend the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38 LFN 2004, to provide more rational sentencing for the offense of attempted suicide and related matters”.

The explanatory memorandum to the legislation read: ‘This Bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code Act Cap C38 LFN 2004 to provide a more rational sentence for the offense of attempted suicide. The sanction proposed by this bill will be curative and punitive, thus allowing the victims to be able to reintegrate into society.

“Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act is to be amended by deleting the term ‘imprisonment for one year’ and replacing it with the term ‘counseling and compulsory community service for a period of not less than six month.

The new section 327 would now read: “Anyone who attempts to commit suicide is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to counseling and compulsory community service for a period of at least six months”.

Leading the debate on the Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill 2021, Waive said in part, “Suicides and attempted suicides are on the rise in Nigeria. This could be due to several reasons, but mainly the difficult economic conditions of the average Nigerian.

“Research has also shown a strong link between suicide and mental illnesses/disorders. However, it continues to be treated as a crime in Nigeria. This means that a person who survives a suicide attempt will be harassed, arrested and punished by the state with up to one year in prison.

“It is therefore imperative to substitute section 327 of the principal law which provides for reckless treatment for anyone who attempts to commit suicide with a proposed amendment.”

Overall, data from India suggests that between 1996 and 2006, suicide rates increased by 33.9% despite the legal sanctions in place.

It has also been found that before suicide was abolished as a crime in the UK, around 5,000 suicides occurred each year.

With regard to Nigeria, recent estimates of the number of suicides suggest that just over 7,000 people (6.9 per 100,000) committed suicide in Nigeria in 2019 alone, despite criminal sanctions in place since then. more than a century.

The association argued that while the law waits for the “attempt” to occur, mental health professionals can intervene even at the level of intent or preparation.

He said “in conclusion, the Psychiatric Association of Nigeria is of the view that it is imperative that the Nigerian Parliament urgently decriminalizes suicide attempts in order to provide seamless access to care and support for those who have made suicide attempts which are often veiled cries for help from a decent and responsible society.

A consultant psychiatrist at the Abeokuta Federal Medical Center, Dr. Ibrahim Opeewe has lent his support to the call for the repeal of the existing law that criminalizes attempted suicide.

Opeewe said: “My view on this is that they shouldn’t be punished. It’s not about people who want to engage, people who just want attention. But, for people who really want to kill themselves. They should not be punished, but rather find out why, what illness and those whose lives would be affected and treat them appropriately.

“So I don’t agree with punishing people who attempt suicide in any form. Punishing them does not solve the problem. It adds no value and doesn’t force anyone else to stop committing suicide. It will even force someone who wants to attempt suicide to perfect their plan because the person knows it is punishable.

The Secretary General of the Psychiatric Association of Nigeria, Dr. Abayomi Olajide, on his part said that attempted suicide is always a form of mental disorder; and people who attempted suicide usually, most often, had a psychological history, mental health issues.

According to Olajide, some of them have serious psychosocial problems that have affected them, some of them are depressed, they suffer from severe depression. So, what this person needs is nothing more than psychosocial support, investigation of the causes and treatment by mental health specialists.

Olajide joined others to have the constitution section removed and replaced with psychosocial support. According to him, this support would give them access to free and qualitative mental health support treatment.

Regarding the association’s efforts, Olajide said the organization has contacted the bill’s sponsor and plans to appear at the public hearing.

He said, “The Psychiatric Association of Nigeria will be providing their own memorandum for the public hearing which will take place very soon and we will be duly requested to give our own opinion on this matter of what to do for people who attempted suicide. .

“And I want to believe that the honorable Chamber will also agree with us, the specialists in this matter.”

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