Although the pilot scheme of age assessment through dental X-rays is not compulsory, the UK's four children's commissioners warn that it "places the child at risk because they may be unable to give informed consent and will be at increased, unnecessary exposure to medical radiation."
[29 March 2012] - The four UK children's commissioners have launched a bid to halt a pilot scheme using dental x-rays to assess the age of asylum-seeking children, warning that the trial could be illegal.
The Home Office announced the dental x-ray pilot scheme, which started on 29 March, through a letter emailed to stakeholders at 6.20pm the previous day.
"The purpose of the trial is to establish whether dental x-rays are a useful tool in helping to establish people’s ages when they have been assessed as an adult yet continue to maintain that they are a minor," the letter said.
"Many of you will be aware of the difficulties that arise when we are not able to establish, with any certainty, the age of an asylum applicant. We are keen to utilise any appropriate tool that can increase our levels of certainty (as long as it does not have a negative impact on the individual in safeguarding terms, of course)."
The trial is being run in conjunction with Croydon Council and Professor Graham Roberts of King’s College Hospital. It will be voluntary and the Home Office maintains that if an asylum-seeker refuses to take part, their claim will not be "adversely" affected.
"We shall be offering individuals who are assessed by Croydon Council as adults, but who continue to contend that they are children, the opportunity to have a dental x-ray at Guys Hospital," the letter added.
"The results will be passed back to the [UK Border] Agency, and the Agency will then contact the applicant. If the x-ray indicates that the individual is likely to be under 18, Croydon Council will be invited to review the age assessment in light of the new evidence.
"If the x-ray indicates that the individual is likely to be over 18, their position will not change – they will continue to be treated as an adult in the asylum system, subject to any additional evidence emerging."
The four UK children’s commissioners said they are "appalled" by the introduction of the pilot.
"We believe that this practice places the child at risk because they may be unable to give informed consent and will be at increased, unnecessary exposure to medical radiation," they warned.
"We believe that this is a clear breach of the rights of vulnerable children and young people and may, in fact, be illegal. We will be challenging the UK Border Agency and the government to end this pilot immediately."
But a UK Border Agency spokesman said: "We are trialling ways to improve the age assessment process so that both adults and children receive age-appropriate services".
He went on: "The trial will only be open to those who have already been assessed as adults and will establish whether dental x-rays are a useful tool. Participation in this trial is voluntary and refusal to take part will not count against anyone."
The four commissioners are Maggie Atkinson in England, Keith Towler in Wales, Tam Baille in Scotland and the Patricia Lewsley-Mooney in Northern Ireland.
- SPAIN: Children or adults? Age assessment practices (Ombudsperson for Spain, March 2012)
- EUROPE: Methods for assessing the age of migrant children must be improved (9 August 2011)
- AUSTRALIA: Wrist X-rays for age determination criticised (28 June 2011)
- UNITED KINGDOM: Plans to X-ray child asylum-seekers attacked (14 November 2007)
- More on children's rights in the United Kingdom
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Last updated 30/03/2012 12:30:12