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Case Study of Decriminalisation in Ghana
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Case Study of Decriminalisation in Ghana


Case Study of Decriminalisation in Ghana

In March 2023, a landmark parliamentary amendment to Ghana's Criminal and Other Offences Act of 1960 sought to decriminalise suicide, reviving the debate on how a legacy of colonial thinking delayed recognition of suicidal behaviour as something that requires understanding rather than punishment.

Historical Context: Colonial Laws and Delayed Recognition:

Ghana, officially the Republic of Ghana's, legal landscape bore the weight of colonial-era laws that dated back to British rule. These laws, deeply rooted in colonial thinking, regarded suicide attempts as criminal offenses. Under the Criminal Offences Act of 1960, attempted suicide was considered a crime, leading to convictions and jail sentences ranging from three months to five years. This punitive approach mirrored the outdated colonial perspective on mental health.

Such colonial-era laws, including Section 57(2) treating suicide attempts as "a misdemeanour," failed to consider the underlying mental health issues driving individuals to attempt suicide. They perpetuated stigma and discrimination against those experiencing severe mental distress, depression, extreme shame, poverty, health challenges, or family and relationship problems.

The collateral impact of criminalising suicidal acts was ironic. It inadvertently encouraged people with suicidal thoughts to resort to more lethal methods, fearing failure and subsequent legal consequences. Furthermore, the law hindered timely reporting of suicidal crises, leading to under-reporting and impeding accurate estimations for suicide prevention planning.

The Legislative Reform:

Recognising the urgency for change, Ghana's parliament took a significant step in amending the Criminal Offences Act in 2023. This amendment marked a shift in the nation's approach to suicide attempts, emphasising understanding and support over punishment. Attempted suicide is now considered a mental health issue requiring assistance by law.

“I am delighted to announce that on 31 March 2023, we took a significant step forward for mental health service delivery by decriminalisation suicide in Ghana.” - President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Advocacy and Stakeholders – The Movement for Change:

Advocates of mental health in Ghana, including mental health workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and human rights non-profits, played a pivotal role in pushing for the decriminalisation of suicide. They spent years tirelessly campaigning for a shift in perspective, emphasising that suicidal behaviour is a disorder and those experiencing it should be given access to medical and psychological assistance, not legal prosecution.

The Onflow Effect of Change:

Policy: The amendment to decriminalise suicide in Ghana prompted a shift in policies, focusing on mental health care and support for those with suicidal tendencies. The government is considering initiatives like a national suicide prevention policy and expanding mental health helplines.

Mental Health Acts: Advocates believe that decriminalisation has opened the door to better mental health care in Ghana. There are efforts to improve logistics, facilities, and resources for mental health support. The Ghana Association for Suicide Prevention is working on programs, and awareness campaigns target teachers and the general public.

Crisis Support: The change in legislation has led to the expansion of crisis response teams and helplines. Mental health organisations are receiving funding from the mental health budget to bolster community-based services.

Community: The Ghanaian public and mental health professionals have welcomed the decriminalisation of suicide as a step towards better understanding and care for those with suicidal tendencies. The shift in perspective recognises the need for assessment by mental health professionals and the importance of providing support to individuals in crisis.

“Our journey to provide comprehensive and accessible health care for all is ongoing. Together, we can build a nation where mental healthcare is a priority, and every Ghanaian receives the care and support they deserve.” - President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo