The Government of the Republic of Zambia has finally moved the long pending Mental Health Bill for final drafting. A drafting workshop of the Bill runs from 4th August to 17th August 2015 in Chongwe district east of Lusaka. This move is the most exciting among all stakeholders who have been concerned with the issue of the Bill being finalized.

It should be noted that the development of the Bill stands as far back as 2004 and before. The call for a new Bill to govern mental health services and provide for the rights of mental health users was necessitated by the dehumanizing and discriminatory nature of the Mental Disorders Act of 1951. The 1951 Act is derogative in nature and does not fit in this era of advancing human rights, especially with the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. Fortunately, the Government of the Republic of Zambia ratified the UNCRPD in 2010.

The Mental Health Bill which is being drafted repeals the Mental Disorders Act of 1951. The advantage the new Bill carries is that it promotes the rights and inherent dignity of persons who have mental illnesses or psycho-social disabilities. If some clauses will be adopted as it is in the current draft, it will recognize the right of mental health users to making their own decision and participating in decisions made around their treatment and rehabilitation. It goes on to provide for supported decision making.

One key issue about this Bill is that it establishes the Mental Health Commission which will oversee the provision and management of mental health services in Zambia. The Bill further provides for mental health tribunals that will act as ‘watchdogs’ for the rights of mental health users. Mental health users who will feel that their rights have been violated will be able to launch complaints to relevant authorities who will then have the matters heard by the tribunal. This s interesting but will need a lot of careful scrutiny to ensure effectiveness.

We would not like to pre-empt the drafting which is being led and chaired by the Ministry of Justice. We are however grateful to government for supporting the drafting process now.

Disability Rights Watch

August 4th, 2015.