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An encouraging Act

It is encouraging to note that the Senate Standing Committee on Interior passed the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2017, which says that instead of facing legal charges, those who attempt suicide should be treated as patients and provided the required interventions. Several mental health specialists had been invited to comment, all of whom emphasised that this is primarily a medical issue. It was pointed out that other countries, including the UK and more recently India, also used to have laws criminalising attempted suicide, but have now struck them down. Psychiatrists even pointed out that the law in its current iteration supports mental disease rather than patients, for the fear of punishment in case of survival can push people to resort to more extreme methods to end their lives. Given the bill includes sections on the rehabilitation of patients, there can be little argument that this is a praiseworthy piece of legislation that ought to be passed in the interests of the people. Those who attempt suicide are driven by utter desperation. That ought not to be compounded by the threat of legal action in case of survival. As a matter of fact, the latest development is encouraging. Even the briefest of journeys through human history shows that societies progress and change. Logically, then, legal systems and practices codifying societies must also evolve at a comparable pace, with redundant or outdated pieces of legislation being made irrelevant and new challenges met. Pakistan’s progress, with parts of its legal system inherited from colonial rule, has been patchy in this respect. While there are several examples of forward-looking legislation, such as those aimed at curbing ‘honour’ killings or gender-based workplace harassment, there also exist laws that have no place in the modern world. Foremost amongst these concerns one of the most shrouded of acts: suicide, or the attempt thereof. If a life is lost, there is nothing to be done but mourn, but as the law currently stands, in case of survivors, the state is required to take legal action. This means there are few reliable figures on the rate of attempted suicide in Pakistan, since family members and even medical facilities try to cover up the truth. As a result, the patient does not get the required medical treatment, even though science has for decades recognised that an act of such extreme desperation is a product of medical factors such as depression or biochemical/hormonal imbalances. It may be mentioned here that suicide has been a decades-old social issue in Pakistan which has always been neglected due to cultural and religious reasons. Most of the cases are left unreported to avoid social stigma and due to suicide being considered unlawful. An unofficial analysis, covering a period of two years, showed over 300 suicidal deaths in Pakistan from 35 different cities. The findings showed that men outnumber women by 2:1 and that the majority of men, who commit suicide, tend to be unmarried; the trend for women, however, is the opposite. Research also indicated that the majority of subjects were under the age of 30 and that along with domestic problems, mental health are the main reason stated for suicide. Due to depression, such feelings comp0unded after the depression-prone individuals are faced with issues like unemployment, health issues, poverty, homelessness, family disputes, depression and a range of social pressures. Hanging, use of insecticides and firearms are the most common methods for carrying out suicide in Pakistan. One also feels our government should arrange seminars and awareness programmes to educate people on how to cope with depression due to temporary problems and to be aware of mental disorders linked to suicides. In Pakistan, suicide has been a long-term social issue, which has always been neglected due to cultural and religious aspects of our society. Most of the cases are unreported because of the stigma attached to it and in general, to mental disorders. An unofficial survey conducted over a period of two years, reported over 300 suicidal deaths in Pakistan from 35 different cities. The findings showed that men outnumber women by 2:1 and that the majority of men who commit suicide tend to be unmarried; the trend for women, however, is the opposite. Research also indicated that the majority of the subjects were under the age of 30 and that “domestic problems” are the main reason stated for suicide. Others include unemployment, health issues, poverty, homelessness, family disputes, depression and a range of social pressures. Hanging, use of insecticides and firearms are the most common methods for carrying out suicides in Pakistan. Our government should arrange seminars and awareness programmes to educate people on how to cope with temporary problems that tend to land one into serious mental disorders which compel the individuals to suicidal thoughts and to be aware of mental disorders that lead to suicide.

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