Rights group not practical about mental health bill, say MPs

Senate bill advocates for fair treatment of persons suffering from mental illness

In Summary

• Bill proposes involuntary admission of mental illness patients to health facilities which the group termed a breach of human rights. 

• KNCHR also demands the repeal of a six-month seclusion period as provided in the Bill.

Mentally challenged patients at the Mathare Hospital.
MENTAL HEALTH: Mentally challenged patients at the Mathare Hospital.
Image: FILE

Members of Parliament and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights have differed over a proposed law on mental health. 

KNCHR was appearing before the National Assembly’s Health committee over the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill, 2018 and was led by CEO Bernard Mogesa. 

The Bill by nominated Senator Sylvia Kasanga advocates for fair treatment of persons suffering from mental illnesses, rehabilitation and treatment of such cases. 


The Bill also promotes the integration of persons with mental illness into the community and safeguarding of the rights of mental cases.

At the heart of the serious disagreement on Thursday was the proposal to involuntarily admit mental illness patients to health facilities. 

According to KNCHR, the suggestion is a direct breach of people’s rights. The rights defender demanded the section to be deleted as "it goes against UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Prevention of Torture Act. "

“ establishes an absolute ban on deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment including non-consensual commitment and treatment,” group's director of research Anne Okotoyi said.

“The state should develop a wide range of community-based services that respond to the needs and respect the person’s autonomy, choices, dignity and privacy, including peer support and other alternatives to the medical model of mental health.”

The commission also raised an issue with the seclusion of and restraint on people with mental illness saying it also goes against the international obligation to end all coercive and non-consensual psychiatric interventions like restraint and seclusion.  

“It is on this basis that the commission strongly recommends that the National Assembly removes new proposed clause and provides for the absolute ban of the use of seclusion and restraint.” 


It amounts to torture and ill-treatment, Okotoyi said.

KNCHR also demanded the repeal of a six-month seclusion period–as provided in the Bill– to 90 days. 

The argument, however, did not settle well with lawmakers who accused the outfit of not being practical. 

Seme MP James Nyikal warned against concentrating on upholding the rights of the patients while turning a blind eye on the consequences it might cause.

“I am worried we look at the right of the sick person ignoring the rights of people they interact with. A person with a panga chasing others, how do you rule out restraint?” Nyikal asked.

Stephen Mule (Matungulu) said the commission’s argument is out of touch with reality and asked the team to reconsider their position. 

“You [commission] need to understand the type of illness we are talking about here. There is no way you are going to release a patient after 90 days when he or she has not recovered,” Mule said.

The Bill was passed in the Senate last year and was submitted before the National Assembly’s Health Committee which is currently conducting stakeholders’ public participation.

Edited by R.Wamochie 

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