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Attempted suicide must be decriminalized; police launches suicide prevention hotline

Amid the rising incidence of suicide,  Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan on Thursday called for the decriminalization of attempted suicide and the locking away of poisons from persons prone to taking their own lives.

“Guyana should move toward the decriminalization of attempted suicide. I would like to hear the arguments from the other side to hear why it would remain on the law-books,” he said. He guaranteed that the debate on whether to erase attempted suicide from Guyana’s laws would be a useful debate.

He was at the time speaking at the launch of the Guyana Police Force’s Suicide Prevention Hotline held at the Officers’ Training Centre, High and Young Streets, Georgetown.

Attempted suicide is punishable by a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

He indicated that Guyana is one of few countries in South America where attempted suicide is a crime.  The United States, Canada and all of Europe, he said, have scrapped that offence.

But Ramjattan, a lawyer by profession, argued that penal action is “wholly unnecessary and self-defeating” because convicts are jailed rather than provided counseling and medical assistance.

The Public Security Minister further reasoned that decriminalizing attempted suicide pushes suicide-prone persons underground and makes them introverts.

In addition to decriminalization, Ramjattan’s package of suggested solutions include a multi-sectoral approach, change in culture, end to stigma and discrimination and the removal of the weapons of choice- mainly pesticides and other poisons from the hands of suicidal persons.  He called on the Pesticides and Poisons Board to engage in aggressive public awareness campaigns and households, dealers and farmers to ensure that pesticides are kept in closed and secured places.

Latest available statistics show that on average there are 50 suicides per 100,000 in Berbice and 36 per 100,000 in Supenaam.

Referring to “extraordinarily high rates” of suicide, he said recent data from the Guyana Police Force shows that  129 persons committed suicides with 42 in Berbice, 22 in East Coast Demerara , 20 in Georgetown- East Bank Demerara and 19 in the interior.

Of  the 129, he noted that 90 were mostly male East Indians.  Last year, there were 97 reported suicides of which 68 were male East Indians. Already for the first six months of this year, 46 persons have committed suicides of which 29 were mostly male East Indians.

Experts say that suicide is caused by several factors such as child abuse, corporal punishment, alcohol abuse ,  domestic violence, terminal illness, family dysfunction, inability of the male to perform the role of breadwinner and poor coping strategies.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that in 2012, there were 804,000 suicides globally.

“This report indicates that incidence of suicide was among the highest in the world heavily skewed to makes compared to females,” said Ramjattan.

The Public Security Minister welcomed the establishment of the Suicide Prevention Hotline and assured that that cause of death is preventable through a national response.