Dentists in England have rejected a call to determine the age of migrant children using dental records because it is unethical, and may not be accurate anyway.
A member of British Parliament was rebuffed by the British Dental Association, and then by the British Home Office, after suggesting migrants be tested for their ages using teeth, based on his observation that some look older than him.
The dentists group calls the use of dental records inappropriate and unethical, adding the tests could be ineffective. In addition to wisdom teeth coming in as early as age 10, the dentists say they do not appear in some adults — so dental x-rays can only offer an estimate of age.
“We’re pleased the Home Office has finally ruled out the use of dental x-rays on child asylum seekers,” Judith Husband, chair of the BDA’s Education, Ethics and the Dental Team Working Group, said in a press release. “Dental x-rays were never going to be a silver bullet for verifying age. They aren’t cheap, they aren’t simple, and at the end of day they don’t provide definitive results.”
Fueling at least some of the concern is a government report suggesting as many as two-thirds of children seeking asylum in the previous year were actually over age 18.
“If they are jumping on lorries, they are not going to be adverse to lying about their ages, we should do the tests,” said British MP David Davies. “We don’t want to vilify anyone… but if we don’t raise these questions we are not going to be able to help the people who need our help.”
A group of unaccompanied children were sent to England from the refugee camp in Calais, France, who are between the age of 14 and 17. Some of their pictures have appeared in newspapers and online, drawing the comment from Davies.
Davies said verifying the children’s ages would offer comfort to some concern that older migrants are pushing children out of the way and preventing them from being rescued.
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