Commissioner strongly opposes medical age assessment of child refugees

Commissioner raises concerns over invasive techniques

Commissioner Bruce Adamson said:  

“The Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee (AESAC)’s report makes for concerning reading. It recommends that ‘scientific methods’ including x-rays and MRIs can be used in some circumstances to assess the age of child refugees, despite recognising that they are inaccurate and potentially harmful. Scientific methods are widely condemned by human rights bodies as invasive, traumatising and inaccurate. 

In August 2022, I wrote to Professor Dame Sue Black to express my concerns about the context in which her Committee’s recommendations will be implemented. In particular, I highlighted the real risk that recommending the use of invasive and medically unnecessary techniques for age assessment would breach children’s rights and would not be consistent with professional and scientific ethics.  

I am disappointed that the Committee has recommended the use of dental and skeletal methods, including the use of X-rays of age-disputed young people’s teeth and hand and wrist bones, despite recognising that these methods lack accuracy and can cause harm. The Committee recommends that children must be able to give free and full consent, but the Nationality and Borders Act provides that the credibility of child refugees may be damaged if they do not consent to medical age assessment.  

My office fully supports professional and medical bodies such as the Society of Radiographers who have advised staff that use of these methods would be contrary to an ethical and human rights-based approach. We would encourage all medical professionals to think very carefully and to seek advice from their employer and professional body before agreeing to conduct an assessment using these methods.  

All children have the right to privacy and bodily integrity and should not be subjected to invasive medical procedures, including x-rays, where there is no medical reason to do so. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child continues to be clear that the least invasive method of assessment should be used, and where it is inconclusive, the child should be given the benefit of the doubt.  

Children’s rights need to be paramount in any age assessment. I urge Scottish councils to continue with their own Merton compliant age assessment and to refuse wherever possible to accept the use of ‘scientific methods’. 

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