Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Kenya: Mental Health Advocates Call for Inclusive Process of Reform

By Steven Allen 24th January 2020


People with psychosocial disabilities in Kenya have demanded a seat at the table in national consultations aimed at reforming the country’s outdated mental health legislation.

Late last year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the establishment of a ‘Mental Health Taskforce’ under the Ministry of Health to develop comprehensive proposals for reform. In line with this order from the President, the Ministry of Health established the taskforce to assess the mental health system and the mental wellbeing of Kenyans. Since the start of the year the taskforce has held public hearings across the country.  However, Validity has joined a coalition of mental health advocates in Kenya expressing concern that the process is secretive and excludes the voices of persons with psychosocial disabilities.

The coalition has expressed concern that the taskforce lacks representation of people with psychosocial disabilities and civil society. Both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Constitution of Kenya guarantee the right of people with disabilities to be involved in public policy which affects their lives. The coalition contends that the taskforce is instead dominated by psychiatrists, although the precise membership is shrouded in secrecy. The coalition argues that human rights standards must ground reform proposals and that key institutions including the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), National Gender & Equality Commission (NGEC), and the Attorney General should be directly involved.

“Kenya has signed and ratified the CRPD. This Convention requires state parties to ensure that people with disabilities can participate in policies that affect their lives. As it stands, the Taskforce membership and public hearings contravenes the basic principle of participation,” said William Aseka, Advocacy Manager for Validity.

Beyond the makeup and secrecy of the taskforce, persons with psychosocial disabilities have also criticised the way in which their voices have been deliberately silenced during public hearings.

Kenya maintains outdated mental health legislation which restricts the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities and contributes to widespread discrimination and stigma. The coalition argues that these offensive policies and laws must be abolished. In line with international human rights law, the coalition is calling for mental health policy to move away from a purely biomedical approach based on “best interests”, coercion and control, which characterise the current legislative and public service system. Reforms should instead be based on ensuring all Kenyans can access support in the community, fully respecting their dignity and autonomy, including the right to provide or withhold consent to medical treatment.

Validity has documented the serious restrictions placed on the rights of persons with disabilities in Kenya, including in the field of health care. In Validity’s report titled The Right to Legal Capacity in Kenya, research documented widespread restrictive practices having profound implications on peoples’ lives. In practice, people with psychosocial disabilities are denied the right to choose where and whom they live with, experience heightened rates of violence and abuse in the community, and are denied access to employment and finance. The study also found that many persons with psychosocial disabilities had experienced ill-treatment including chaining, forced treatment and isolation, and that families receive little to no support.

In 2015, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities expressed concern about both “formal and informal” restrictions placed on persons with psychosocial disabilities and called on Kenya to repeal legislation which allows psychiatric detention and forced treatment.

Validity fully supports the call for comprehensive involvement of persons with psychosocial disabilities in all reform processes and calls on the Kenyan Government to ensure all future reform proposals conform with human rights standards.