While the World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) 2021 was observed on Friday, September 10, 2021, section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) will perpetuate the legal status of suicide as a criminal offence in Pakistan. Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) states: “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.” The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) was originally devised by Thomas Babington Macaulay as the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on behalf of the Government of India in 1860, and thereby is copiously influenced by English law. Notwithstanding the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalizing the act of suicide in England and Wales, and the multifarious amendments in the penal code, section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) is extant to this day.
The World Health Organization (WHO)’s conjecture apropos of the number of attempted suicide cases in Pakistan per annum is betwixt 130,000 and 270,000. The Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA)’s research report entitled “A study of registered cases of suicide in Sindh between 2016 and 2020” documented 767 suicide cases in Sindh betwixt 2016 and 2020.
The data collected on suicide in Sindh betwixt 2016 and 2020 was referred to as “unrealistic and grossly under-reported.” The author of the research report, Ali Murad Talpur, said: “We found incomplete information about the cases which made it hard to meet the study criteria.” Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja, the first Chairman of Authority, said: “Unless we have legislation on suicide prevention, we can’t move forward and pursue this matter effectively.”
The fundamentally fallacious conception of suicide in Pakistan was conspicuously accentuated by a tone-deaf tweet by the Punjab Police on May 21, 2021, warning suicide attempt survivors of being liable to one-year imprisonment. The tweet was accompanied by the hashtags #Awareness and #BuildingForBetter.
The tweet enkindled a gargantuan, incandescent backlash. The Punjab Police responded by deleting all the comments on the tweet and retweeting: “The Punjab Police have started a law awareness campaign on its social media pages. We had tweeted to discourage people who have suicidal tendencies and warned them about Pakistani laws on mental health, according to which committing suicide is a crime and someone who survives a suicide attempt will be liable to one year’s imprisonment under Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The tweet was aimed at highlighting the blessing of life. Your life is not only important for you but also for your family, so don’t waste it by killing yourself. We tweeted to aware people about law on mental health and we didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. We thank our followers for sharing their thoughts and highlighting other aspects of the post.”
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s former Senator Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja said: “Suicide is an indicator of mental distress, not criminal behavior. In many cases, the act signifies the extremity of depression. The role of the state should be to help treat such people, not punish them.” The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017, introduced by Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja in an endeavor to repeal section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), was not passed by the National Assembly in spite of its unanimous adoption by the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Senate.
In conversation with Edition.pk, Sadaf Noureen – an addiction therapist, a clinical psychologist, a clinical supervisor, a counsellor and a psychotherapist – said: “As per the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), both suicide and attempted suicide are currently considered criminal offences, with the latter punishable either by a jail term of up to a year, or a fine, or both. In a civilized society, survivors/victims of suicide attempt(s) receive supportive and compassionate mental and medical care rather than being subjected to criminal proceedings. The criminalization of suicidal behavior is one of the main reasons that people do not seek help for the psychological problem that may have precipitated the act. Most people who attempt suicide suffer from a mental disorder, such as depression, and the attempt is commonly precipitated as a result of interpersonal difficulties or some other stressful factor(s). Instead of helping them, the victims and their families become vulnerable to police harassment and extortion, and are treated like criminals. The rule of ‘insanity’ is also applicable in Islam, wherein a mentally disturbed person is not held to be responsible for their act(s). Therefore, the act of suicide requires a multidisciplinary approach for its prevention, and this is the need of time. We should see this issue beyond our preconceived notion(s) as most of the time, it’s a cry for help!”