Asylum seekers: UK is likely to use dental X-rays to assess ages

Date:


A Home Office report on supposed scientific methods for estimating ages is likely to recommend the use of dental X-rays, among other techniques, despite a lack of evidence to support them



Society



27 July 2022

Dental X-ray

Dental X-rays are a controversial technique when used to precisely measure age

Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker

Four supposedly scientific methods, probably including dental X-rays, will be proposed as a way to help estimate the ages of asylum seekers in the UK, New Scientist understands, despite concerns from researchers and health bodies that there is no accurate way to determine someone’s age.

The methods will be proposed in a report due to be published by the UK Home Office’s Age Estimation Scientific Advisory Committee, according to three sources with knowledge of the report’s contents.

The committee has spent the past few months examining several methods that could help officials better assess the ages of asylum seekers. The issue has gained more traction in recent months due to the UK government’s attempts to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The Home Office has said that no unaccompanied children will be flown to Rwanda, but charity workers have argued that children wrongly assessed to be over 18 have already been sent deportation orders.

New Scientist previously reported that the Home Office committee was focusing on dental age assessments, wrist bone analysis and the use of blood or saliva samples to discover age-related chemical modifications in DNA.

Sources who spoke to New Scientist on condition of anonymity now say the committee will propose the use of four scientific methods to be used alongside current interview-based age assessments. DNA is no longer being considered, with the committee instead recommending two techniques based on X-rays and two on MRIs.

One controversial method, which uses dental X-rays and works on the assumption that teeth mature at a constant rate, is very likely to be recommended, New Scientist understands. The British Dental Association (BDA) has previously called the technique inaccurate.

“If the government presses ahead with dental age checks it will be an aberration,” says Eddie Crouch at the BDA. “These are not scientific methods, but reckless plans that fail basic tests on accuracy and ethics.”

“This advisory committee has refused our offers to engage,” he says. “If these age checks go forward, then they will be helping the Home Office chase column inches with no regard for the consequences.”

“The inevitable result will be that vulnerable child migrants will end up paying the price,” says Crouch.

Another method likely to be recommended is the analysis of collarbone maturity, either using MRI scans or X-rays. “It’s a marker that matures much later,” one source with knowledge of the committee’s report told New Scientist. “If you can see that someone’s collarbone is more mature, then you’re more confident that they’re over 18.”

But this measure isn’t perfect and can still only tell you someone’s age within a five-year range, the source says, which could include ages both above and below 18.

The Home Office said it wouldn’t comment on the contents of the report, only saying that it will be published in “due course”.

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