With more and more children forced to leave their homes and families in search of safety, it is not surprising that we have seen a steady rise in the number of separated children who come to the UK to claim asylum.
In fact, their applications account for around 6% of all asylum claims that were made in the UK in the last 12 months. As we see an increase in the number of children needing protection however, we are also observing another trend: more children are being disbelieved about their age.
There are many reasons why children who arrive in the UK might not have identity documents.
There are many reasons why children who arrive in the UK might not have identity documents. They were perhaps never issued with a form of ID, they may have lost it during perilous journeys, traffickers may have given them false documents, or they only have a copy rather than the original document. Children may also not know how old they are, as not all cultures celebrate birthdays and record age.
There is a consensus among practitioners that using a holistic assessment conducted by a qualified social worker (the Merton Assessment) is the best method to establish whether a person is younger than 18. Yet, instead of supporting local authorities to conduct these holistic assessments and address incorrect age determinations by immigration officials, the UK Government has decided to introduce biological, so-called “scientific” methods to assess a child’s age.
We at the Refugee Council are highlighting key concerns around the use of biological methods, outlining the adverse impact on children as well as the lack of scientific evidence
The Government recently introduced two draft regulations that were debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords in November and are in the process of being implemented. In the Lords, members put on record their concerns around the use of biological methods such as X-rays and MRIs, highlighting that the Government had not conducted an impact assessment.
The reality is that no method can determine age with precision. But the Government is progressing with their plans, despite the fact that, by their own admission, the policy and design are still under development.
The reality is that no method can determine age with precision.
Alongside the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium (RMCC), and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), we at the Refugee Council have highlighted key concerns around the use of biological methods, outlining the adverse impact on children as well as the lack of scientific evidence to show that these methods can provide the age of a person with any more certainty than the Merton Assessment. ■
Further resources and reading
- Read our parliamentary briefing, written with the RCPCH
- Read an op-ed from the Refugee Council’s CEO, Enver Solomon and RCPCH’s Officer for Child Protection, Prof. Andrew Rowland calling on the UK Government to ditch age assessment X-rays
- Download Refugee Council’s social media assets, including infographics and more
- Read the joint letter to the Home Secretary from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the British Dental Association (BDA) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW)
- We have been covering the developments in this area on X:
- Read Refugee Council Senior Policy Analyst Kama Petruczenko’s article for Free Movement
- Read the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee report