Non-presentation of Mental Health Bill — Zambia

From our member Sylvester Katotnoka, Executive Director, Mental Health Users Network of Zambia and Disability Rights Watch Zambia. We would all like to express our deep concern that the Zambian Ministry of Health continues to disregard mental health. The current Mental Health Act is from 1949 and allows abuse of the rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with mental health conditions! We are asking the Zambian Ministry of Health and all relevant government ministries to immediately and positively respond to our colleagues in Zambia. Thank you. 

OUR CONTEST LETTER TO THE ZAMBIAN GOVERNMENT ON FAILURE TO ENACT THE MENTAL HEALTH BILL

17th February, 2016.

The Minister,

Ministry of Health,

Ndeke house,

Lusaka.

Dear Honourable Minister,

Re: Non-presentation of the Mental Health Bill to Parliament in the Current Sitting

We write to officially register our concern on the non-presentation of the Mental Health Bill of 2016 to Parliament in the current sitting despite the completion of the drafting process. We raise this concern following your announcement through the media that the Bill would not be presented due the fact that there are many Bills to be considered in the current sitting. This tells us that issues around mental health and disability in general are not a priority of the government.

We take note that the formulation of the new Mental Health Bill started as far as two decades ago. The draft Bill has been with the Ministry of Health and only went to the Ministry of Justice in 2015. Its movement to the Ministry of Justice gave us complete hope. Furthermore, we have attended two drafting workshop led by Ministry of Justice and our belief was that the Bill was ready to be presented to Parliament. We receive the news that the Bill will not get to Parliament in the current sitting with shock and this raises desperation in us.

Honourable, you are very much aware that the Bill is intended to repeal the Mental Disorders Act of 1949. The Act of 1949 continues to portray persons with mental impairments as idiots, imbeciles and less human. It has perpetuated the gross abrogation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with mental impairments. The police and other wings of the justice system have continued to use the Mental Disorders Act of 1949 to abuse the rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with mental impairments. The archaic Act is not constitutional and is not in conformity will International Human Rights Law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is not also in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) standards and principles. The Act of 1949 remains enforceable despite having a Constitution referred as being progressive after signing by His Excellence, President Edgar Lungu. Is this not a paradox?

We are aware that you say that there are many Bills in this sitting because of the aligning of many laws to the new Constitution. The Mental Health Bill is equally aligning the Mental Disorders Act of 1949 to the new Constitution! Why acting in a discriminatory manner by excluding issues of mental health?

We demand that we urgently receive an answer to the following questions:

1.Are issues concerning mental health a priority to the government?

2.Does government recognise the effect and impact of mental health problems on the families, community, and the nation as a whole?

3.The government is happy and comfortable with the dehumanizing provisions of the Mental Disorders Act of 1949. Are we correct?

4.If so, is government deliberately not prioritising mental health issues in as far as inclusive laws and policies is concerned?

5.Is government indirectly asking us to seek judicial intervention to declare the Mental Disorders Act of 1949 null and void due to its noncompliance to the Constitution of Zambia and International Human Rights Law? We are fully ready to take this direction!

Honourable, we recommend that:

1.You immediately take the necessary steps to ensure that the Bill is passed by the current sitting of Parliament. This means that the Bill will be passed by Parliament by 10th March, 2016.

2.You produce a comprehensive statement on how you treat issues of mental health in relation to the above questions.

We look forward to your positive response. Persons with mental health impairments are 100% citizens!

Signed,

Sylvester Katotnoka, Bruce Chooma,

Executive Director, Coordinator,

Mental Health Users Network of Zambia. Disability Rights Watch.

Cc. Permanent Secretary; Ministry of Health.

Cc. Attorney General; Republic of Zambia.

Cc. Director of Litigation; Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

Cc. President; Ellis and Company.

Cc. Executive President; Disability Rights Watch.

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