X-rays of teeth and bones of the hands and wrists and MRIs of knees and collar bones to be used in age assessments
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said today that it was concerned by forthcoming legislation that will authorise the Government's use of x-rays in age assessments of children seeking refuge and asylum.
The Home Office said on Tuesday: "[S]econdary legislation laid by the Ministry of Justice this week will, once approved by Parliament, authorise the use of x-rays in scientific age assessments, paving the way for the Home Office to improve their ability to effectively determine the age of illegal entrants making disputed claims to be children. … Legislation will then be laid by the Home Office, taking forward powers under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which will specify that x-rays of teeth and bones of the hands and wrists and MRIs of knees and collar bones can be used as part of the age assessment process."
In addition, the legislation will allow Home Office decision makers to consider that an asylum seeker's refusal to be tested by these methods damages their credibility. Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said it was only right that the credibility of those who refuse to be scientifically age assessed is questioned and held against them as part of the decision making process.
As noted in the Immigration (Age Assessments) Regulations 2023, the four scientific methods that will be allowed under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 to assess a person's age are:
(a) the interpretation of radiographs to assess the stage of maturation of the mandibular third molars;
(b) the interpretation of radiographs to assess the stage of maturation of the bones of the hand and wrist;
(c) the interpretation of images from magnetic resonance imaging to assess the stage of maturation of the distal femur and proximal tibia;
(d) the interpretation of images from magnetic resonance imaging to assess the stage of maturation of the medial end of the clavicle.
In response to the announcement, RCPCH today issued a statement restating its position that exposure to radiation through x-ray imaging for a non-medical purpose is not ethical, and there is insufficient evidence to make accurate conclusions about a person's age from the methods proposed by the Government.
RCPCH added that it was concerned by legislation that would allow a refusal to undergo a biological age assessment to be held against children as a part of the decision-making process with regard to their asylum claim.
Professor Andrew Rowland, RCPCH Officer for Child Protection, stated:
"Evidence shows that using x-rays to determine age can be widely inaccurate and the practice is ultimately unethical. It is appalling to see that the Government is persisting with these plans, which hinge life-changing decisions for some of the most vulnerable young people in our society on unspecific scientific outcomes and includes exposing them to radiation.
"Children have a right to seek asylum in the UK under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and it is our legal duty to uphold this. Many of these children have faced significant trauma on their journey to the UK, and should be met with compassion and care, not unnecessary medical procedures.
"Furthermore, informed consent is fundamental to all medical practice, and by definition must be free from duress. This Government policy enforces a slide away from that core principle as it places such significant consequences on the refusal of biological age assessments. This directly opposes both the principles of informed consent and the recommendations set out by the independent body commissioned to look at the policy - the Age Estimation Scientific Advisory Committee (AESAC), with regard to assumptions or consequences stemming from refusal to consent."
The Home Office says that the use of MRI and x-rays are in line with the recommendations made by the AESAC in their report published in January 2023.