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New Scientist: Home Office independent scientific committee expected to recommend dental X-rays and collarbone analysis for assessing the age of asylum seekers

Summary:

Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee to recommend X-rays and MRI scans in forthcoming report

Date of Publication:
01 August 2022

New Scientist: Home Office independent scientific committee expected to recommend dental X-rays and collarbone analysis for assessing the age of asylum seekers

01 August 2022
EIN

The Home Office's independent Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee is expected to recommend four methods for assessing the age of asylum seekers in its forthcoming report, the New Scientist reported last week.

X-ray of handsThree sources with knowledge of the Committee's report spoke to the New Scientist on condition of anonymity.

The sources said the Committee had examined a number of methods for age assessments and it would recommend two techniques based on X-rays and two techniques based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

According to the New Scientist, it is highly likely that the recommendations will include the use of dental X-rays on the assumption that teeth mature at a constant rate.

It is also expected that the Committee's report will recommend the use of MRI scans or X-rays to analyse the maturity of the collarbone. "If you can see that someone's collarbone is more mature, then you're more confident that they're over 18," one of the anonymous sources told the New Scientist.

While the Home Office was approached for comment by the New Scientist, it would only say that the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee's report would be published in due course.

Eddie Crouch, the chair of the British Dental Association (BDA), told the New Scientist that it would be an aberration for the Home Office to use unscientific dental X-rays for age assessments.

The BDA said in a statement last year: "The Association has vigorously opposed the use of dental X-rays to determine whether asylum seekers have reached the age of 18, stressing they are an inaccurate method for assessing age. The BDA also believes that it is inappropriate and unethical to subject people to radiation when there is no health benefit for them. X-rays taken for a clinically justified reason must not be used for another purpose without the patient's informed consent and must be carried out without coercion and in full knowledge of how the radiograph will be used and by whom."

A useful November 2017 article by the Legal Action Group (LAG) summarised the case law that considered the use of dental X-rays for assessing age as being unreliable and discredited.

The Home Office said in January 2022 that it wanted to introduce new scientific methods and bring the UK's age checking policy in line with other European countries who use X-rays and MRI and CT scans.

It noted: "For example, Finland and Norway take radiographs to examine the development of teeth and the fusion of bones in the wrist. In both countries, two certified experts will carry out the age assessment and must jointly agree on the person's age. In France, X-rays are taken to examine the fusion of the collar bone, alongside dental and wrist X-rays, while in Greece, dental X-rays are used alongside social worker assessments."

The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) comprehensive 116-page guidance from 2018 on conducting age assessments can be downloaded here.