Today 11human rights organizations that champion the right to be free from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence welcomed the signing into law of the Mental Health (Amendment) Act, 2022 by H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. This comes after the Kenyan Senate unanimously passed the Mental Health Amendment Bill on June 21, 2022.
“This Act is a landmark development for health, wellbeing, and human rights in Kenya. If implemented effectively, this legislation can transform how people in Kenya access comprehensive mental health services, including the provision of care to survivors of sexual violence,” said Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge, head of the Physicians for Human Rights Kenya office.
The Mental Health Act is signed into law as cases of various mental health conditions are on the rise in Kenya – so much so that the Government is being urged to declare mental health a national emergency. Mental health challenges have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has also highlighted the need to prioritize mental health and wellbeing. With the increase in cases of sexual and gender-based violence during the pandemic tackling domestic violence during COVID-19 came the need for mental health care, particularly for survivors of sexual violence who are in dire need of trauma informed, survivor-centered services. Gender-based violence has profound and long-lasting impacts on survivors’ mental health, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The right to the highest attainable standard of health including mental health is enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya and recognized by international human rights law.
Among the key provisions, the Mental Health Amendment Act amends previous legislation (Mental Health Act, Cap 248) to align the country’s mental health laws with the provisions of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and the Health Act, 2017. The Act’s overarching interest is to ensure that all persons with mental health needs receive the highest attainable standard of care, in line with the Kenyan Constitution. Additionally, the Act obliges both the national and county governments to provide the necessary resources for the provision of the mental health care and treatment. Under the new law, survivors of sexual violence are entitled to access affordable mental health services in different health facilities. The Act enumerates the rights of persons with mental illness, including the right to protection from sexual exploitation.
While its signing merits celebration, the impacts of the new law will be determined by its implementation by the Kenyan government.
The 11 human rights organizations are calling for:
- The national and county governments to put in place mechanisms including a strategy and plan of action and policies to promote the realization of the rights of persons with mental illness;
- The national government to urgently put in place the regulations to facilitate operationalization of the Act;
- The county governments to allocate funds necessary for the provision of mental health care in the county budgets;
- The county governments to expedite the establishment of county mental health councils;
- The national and county governments to ensure dissemination of the Act across the country and create awareness of the provisions in the
- Act among healthcare providers and the populace at large;
- Coordination, pooling of resources, and implementation by civil society organizations; and
- Continuation of civil society partnership with the relevant state actors to ensure that the Act is implemented for the benefit of all citizens.
We extend our sincere gratitude and congratulations to Hon. Senator Sylvia Kasanga, who not only sponsored this Bill in Senate, but also championed its enactment into law.
- Centre for Rights Education and Awareness.
- Collaborative Centre for Gender Development.
- Coalition Action for Preventive Mental Health.
- Gay Trust Kenya.
- Grace Agenda.
- Health Rights Advocacy Forum.
- Health Right Kenya.
- Wangu Kanja Foundation.
- Physicians for Human Rights.
- Survivors of Sexual Violence in Kenya.
- Shining Hope for Communities.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.