Anti-Suicide Laws in Nine African Countries: Criminalization, Prosecution and Penalization
Although several countries and jurisdictions across the globe have repealed their legal statutes criminalizing suicide attempts (or nonfatal suicidal behavior), suicide attempt remains a crime in several African countries. In these countries, a suicide attempt puts the suicide attempt survivor at risk for criminal apprehension, prosecution and penalization. The current article provides an overview of anti-suicide laws in nine selected African countries. In addition, it presents the results of a brief survey of the popular electronic and print media conducted to discover evidence of legal prosecution and penalization of suicide attempt survivors in the selected countries. The data show that criminal prosecution of suicide attempt survivors occurs in all but one of the societies where suicide attempt is criminalized. The article concludes with a brief overview of the arguments for penalization and depenalization of suicide attempts. Advocates of decriminalization argue that suicidal behavior is a symptom of a medical or psychological problem; therefore, suicidal persons need medical, psychological or psychiatric services, not judicial penalties. Opponents of decriminalization contend that suicide is inherently evil, immoral, or sinful; therefore, continued legal prohibition and judicial sanctions are defensible.