Duncan Lewis


Asylum, Detention/ Fast Track

Managed Migration, Public Law

The dental X ray scheme to know the age of asylum seeking children has been halted just when it was due to begin

Date: (11 May 2012)    |    

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The controversial dental X ray checks to determine the age of child asylum seekers by the UK Border Agency has been suspended and advice on the legality of the scheme is being sought for.
The pilot scheme which was to begin at the end of March but criticised vehemently by health professionals was stalled the Home Office just 24 hours before it was due to begin.
Now an MP has demanded the pilot be dropped saying it was 'unethical, an uncertain science and crude' and was generalising of how particular groups were treated.
Government wanted to see whether the x-rays would be a useful tool in establishing the ages of asylum seekers, as they are treated differently if they are under 18. The move came three years after the previous Labour government dropped plans to introduce such checks.
Questions over legalities were raised; with some lawyers claiming, to x-ray children under such circumstances might constitute assault.
Wigan Labour MP Lisa Nandy said the UK Border Agency had a responsibility, which was not only in a welfare capacity but a moral and legal duty as well. There were significant levels of opinion that this was wrong. Government may claim that it was voluntary but there was no real meaningful voluntary consent as people were desperate to prove they were who they say they are and how old they are.
Ms Nandy also said dental x-rays were not a definitive science and can be two or three years out either side of a person's actual age.
There was also a significant body of medical opinion and experience that said under nourishment and distress could make a difference on skeletal make-up of a person, which included their teeth, she added.
She said that from a child protection health and ethical point she had serious reservations about the scheme and would pursue in Parliament and hoped that the scheme never started.
She added that it was harmful to expose children to radiation for reasons other than medical purposes it had no medical benefit.
In response to questioning from Ms Nandy, immigration minister Damian Green said no discussions have taken place with the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the issue.
He added the UK Border Agency had engaged with the Department for Education and the Department of Health. Agency officials have also met with representatives of the National Research Ethics Service. The agency had received correspondence from the chief medical officer, the British Dental Association and the Children's Commissioner for England. The agency had sought legal advice on the legality of the trial.
But he also said that any individual could change their mind at any stage of the process, right up until the X-ray is taken, and no the individual can change their mind and no unfavourable assumption would be deduced from a decision not to take part. The whole process would be entirely voluntary.