On Thursday, the Senate Standing Committee on Interior passed the Criminal Laws Amendment Bill 2017. The bill was moved by PPP Senator Karim Ahmed Khwaja. This is a huge step in getting rid of the archaic colonial laws which criminalised the most human of experiences. This amendment seeks the abolishment of a colonial law which criminalises suicide attempts.
This remnant of the colonial era focuses only on the aspect that suicide is forbidden in the Islamic faith, hence those attempting it must be punished. However, there is more to a suicide attempt than just the mere wish to end life. A history of depression and other mental illnesses force the person to take such a step and our laws completely ignore this aspect. It is therefore extremely necessary that the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 is revised in light of the new information.
Mental health issues are severely ignored in the country and that lack of discussion is also reflected in the country’s legislature. There is a growing number of people affected by mental health issues, especially in the urban centres of the country. The lack of facilities and medical professionals to attend to the growing number of patients, the growing number of suicide attempts should not be a surprise. The fact that the entire population only has 400 psychiatrists and only a few mental health facilities to their aid should be a cause of concern.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has also supported the amendment. Chairman Professor Dr Qibla Ayaz informed the Senate Standing Committee that even though suicide is forbidden in Islam, these cases need to be treated with seriousness. Medical examinations should be carried out to check whether or not the person suffers from depression or other mental health problems, and proper rehabilitation centres must be set up to provide help to these people.
This is a huge step towards creating awareness regarding mental health issues. The fact that our legislators are seeing beyond the surface and understanding the nuances of human life, must be appreciated. However, we are quite familiar with prompt legislations and lack of action. Only time will tell how this one will materialise.