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BASW UK welcomes JCHR report on Age Assessments

Government proposals will put unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at risk if they are wrongly assessed to be over 18

Proposals in the UK’s Government Nationality and Borders Bill on age assessments of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) could have severe consequences which would amount to a denial of children’s rights”, according to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The Committee undertook legislative scrutiny of the Bill last year, with BASW’s Head of Policy and Research Luke Geoghegan being invited to give oral evidence following on from our submission of written evidence.

The Government have made proposals which are intended to reduce the number of age-disputed people being assessed as being under 18.

For those under 18 in the UK who do not have parents or guardians, there is a legal requirement for the local authority to accommodate them and provide support.

There has been significant fearmongering over the last few years which is trying to discredit the process of determining chronological age, which is currently through assessments that are led by social workers on behalf of a local authority in which the young person resides.

This Bill and Home Office rhetoric feeds into the narrative that there are adult men masquerading as children to gain access to the support under 18s receive in the UK. 

This bears no resemblance to the facts.

In our evidence to the Committee, BASW argued that the Government proposals will put unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at risk if they are wrongly assessed to be over 18, which the measures in the Bill increase the likelihood of.

Another key issue brought forward in the Bill is the use of “scientific methods” to determine chronological age.

There is currently no reliable or accurate way to determine age through “scientific methods” as there is too much variation in the estimate. “Scientific methods” are no more accurate than age assessments carried out by social workers, yet they carry significant risks such as exposure to radiation through x-rays and adding to trauma that a young person may have faced on their way to the UK.

The JCHR described the proposals on “scientific methods” as “concerning” and agreed with BASW that the proposed approach of discrediting the credibility of a young person who refuses to undergo a physical examination, should not be part of the Bill.

Diminished credibility for not wanting to undergo a potentially invasive medical procedure is nothing more than coercion, and no child should be treated that way.

The Nationality and Borders Bill is not fit for purpose, and the proposed changes to age assessments are misinformed at best, and grotesque, unethical and illegal at worst.

A BASW UK spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) agreed with our position that the proposals in the Bill on age assessment reform are deeply concerning, and that they put the safeguarding and wellbeing of children at risk.

“So-called scientific methods have not been proven to be accurate, or reliable, and they can cause unnecessary exposure to radiation and other trauma for no medical benefit. This is unacceptable, and while we are pleased that the JCHR agrees with our position on this, we are deeply concerned that the Government is ploughing ahead despite the warnings from the sector. This is the hostile environment in action, and now it is being extended to children.”