MPs criticise scientific age-assessments for asylum-seeking children

Joe Lepper
Thursday, January 20, 2022

The use of scientific age assessments for asylum-seeking children, in disputes over how old they are, has been described as “unethical” by MPs and peers sitting on a parliamentary human rights committee.

Young people in age disputes could be subject to tests including x-rays and MRIs. Picture: Adobe Stock
Young people in age disputes could be subject to tests including x-rays and MRIs. Picture: Adobe Stock

Earlier this month the Home Office announced plans under the Nationality and Borders Bill to bring in “new scientific methods” for assessing the age of asylum-seeking children.

Methods already used in other countries under consideration include x-ray and CT scans as well as MRI imaging.

But MPs and lords sitting on the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) warn that medical experts have called into question the accuracy of such methods to test the age of children.

They are also concerned that the use of such potentially traumatic medical procedures on children could be “unethical”.

“The power for the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out specified scientific methods for assessing age is concerning,” says the committee.

“The accuracy of potential methods, such as x-ray or dental analysis, has been questioned by various medical bodies and the use of such procedures can be considered unethical.

“The committee is particularly concerned that refusal to consent to scientific procedures would be taken into account when determining the credibility of an age-disputed person who may be a child and recommends removing this from the Bill.”

The Home Office is creating a Scientific Advisory Committee to advise ministers on ways to check the age of asylum-seekers.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the measures around age verification are being taken as part of a crackdown on abuses by adults, who she says are falsely claiming to be younger than they are to access children’s and education services.

But the JHCR is concerned that scientific age assessments “would increase the risk that a child is wrongly assessed to be an adult” and risk the UK breaching UN and European human rights obligations.

It adds: “This would mean they would not have access to support from children’s services, access to education and could be housed in conditions that are completely inappropriate.”

JHRC deputy chair Joanna Cherry warned the government against “coming up with new punitive measures” against asylum seekers in the Nationality and Borders Bill.

“The UK has a proud history of championing the human rights of refugees,” said Cherry.

“We should continue in this tradition and do all we can to be a place of welcome and support for people who have been persecuted.

“The bill is at odds with the refugee convention and with our human rights obligations and should be amended.”

A British Association of Social Workers spokesperson backed the JCHR’s concerns adding that the government’s plans to reform age assessments “put the safeguarding and wellbeing of children at risk”.

“So-called scientific methods have not been proven to be accurate, or reliable, and they can cause unnecessary exposure to radiation and other trauma for no medical benefit,” the BASW spokesperson added.

“This is unacceptable, and while we are pleased that the JCHR agrees with our position on this, we are deeply concerned that the government is ploughing ahead despite the warnings from the sector.

“This is the hostile environment in action, and now it is being extended to children.”

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