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Age Assessment of Unaccompanied Minors in Sweden and the Rights of Children

Johansson, Emil LU (2019) JURM02 20191
Department of Law
Faculty of Law
Abstract
In 2015, Sweden saw a large influx of asylum-seekers into the country, many of whom claimed to be unaccompanied minor. Without personal documents to attest their age, the authorities often doubted these claims of minority, prompting a need for age assessment. The government called for medical age assessments to be developed and introduced and a method for medical age assessment was hastily developed. In 2017 alone, 10,000 medical age assessments were conducted. Eventually, scientists blew the whistle, criticising the method for its insufficient scientific standard and calculating that approximately every third child risks being erroneously classified as an adult under the current method used in Sweden for medical age assessments. With this... (More)
In 2015, Sweden saw a large influx of asylum-seekers into the country, many of whom claimed to be unaccompanied minor. Without personal documents to attest their age, the authorities often doubted these claims of minority, prompting a need for age assessment. The government called for medical age assessments to be developed and introduced and a method for medical age assessment was hastily developed. In 2017 alone, 10,000 medical age assessments were conducted. Eventually, scientists blew the whistle, criticising the method for its insufficient scientific standard and calculating that approximately every third child risks being erroneously classified as an adult under the current method used in Sweden for medical age assessments. With this uncertainty in mind, we investigate Swedish age assessments, under domestic and international law, for the purpose of increased legal certainty for children facing age assessment.

In this thesis, we first review the process of age assessment. We look at who is subject to age assessment, and what law governs it. Then, we review the current method for medical age assessment, and the criticism that it has received in particular, whilst also reflecting on medical and radiological age assessments in general, and the viability of these methods. We find that the criticism is substantive and that it may be impossible to validate medical age assessments due to a lack of proper reference groups. Having established the uncertainty of current medical age assessments, we move on to the process of proving your age. That is, making your age credible. We find that while the applicant has the burden of proof in theory, due to the difficulty of ascertaining uncertainties in asylum applications, there is a shared burden of inquiry and the legal consequences of not conducting the inquiry to the required high standard befall the State actor. The result being that the child should be given the benefit of the doubt. On the subsequent subject of the standard of proof, we find that were it not for the shared burden of inquiry and the benefit of the doubt, then proving your age would be of insurmountable difficulty. With Swedish domestic law reviewed in detail, we widen the scope and investigate the effects that international law may have on age assessment. We argue that for the Convention on the Rights of the Child to function effectively, it must also apply to children who have yet to prove their age. Thus, consideration of their best interests must be taken. The UNCRC and the UNHCR are in further support of the child being given a liberal benefit of the doubt and assessment of general credibility. Lastly, we analyse the above findings collectively and conclude, inter alia, that because of the highly criticised method for medical age assessment, where the applicant has submitted to the medical examination, there should currently be sufficient doubts of the applicant’s age in every case. Thus, the State must assume that the applicant is a child under EU law. We then compare the conclusions of this thesis with a previous quantitative study of appellate court judgements and find that there have been no successful appeals of a temporary age decision due mostly to Swedish authorities not acknowledging doubts arising from the criticised method for medical age assessment. (Less)
Abstract (Swedish)
Flyktingströmmen 2015 medförde en stor ökning av antalet asylsökande till Sverige, varav många anförde att de var ensamkommande minderåriga. Inte sällan ifrågasatte myndigheterna sökandenas åldrar, vilket medförde ett behov av åldersbedömningar. Regeringen gav då i uppdrag att skyndsamt utveckla och påbörja medicinska åldersbedömningar, och en metod för detta utvecklades hastigt. Enbart under 2017 utfördes därefter 10 000 åldersbedömningar med metoden. Efter en tid höjde rättsläkare och vetenskapsmän rösten och kritiserade metoden för bristande vetenskaplig standard. De bedömde att cirka var tredje barn riskerar att felaktigt bedömas som vuxen med nuvarande metod för medicinsk åldersbedömning. Med denna osäkerhet i åtanke undersöker vi... (More)
Flyktingströmmen 2015 medförde en stor ökning av antalet asylsökande till Sverige, varav många anförde att de var ensamkommande minderåriga. Inte sällan ifrågasatte myndigheterna sökandenas åldrar, vilket medförde ett behov av åldersbedömningar. Regeringen gav då i uppdrag att skyndsamt utveckla och påbörja medicinska åldersbedömningar, och en metod för detta utvecklades hastigt. Enbart under 2017 utfördes därefter 10 000 åldersbedömningar med metoden. Efter en tid höjde rättsläkare och vetenskapsmän rösten och kritiserade metoden för bristande vetenskaplig standard. De bedömde att cirka var tredje barn riskerar att felaktigt bedömas som vuxen med nuvarande metod för medicinsk åldersbedömning. Med denna osäkerhet i åtanke undersöker vi svenska åldersbedömningar, under nationell samt internationell rätt, med syfte att öka rättssäkerheten för de barn vars åldrar ska bedömas.

I denna uppsats granskar vi först processen för åldersbedömning. Vi undersöker vem den är tillämplig på och vilka lagar som styr. Därefter granskar vi i synnerhet den nuvarande metoden för medicinska åldersbedömningar och kritiken som lyfts mot den, medan vi även reflekterar över medicinska åldersbedömningar och deras användbarhet i allmänhet. Vi finner att kritiken är välgrundad och att det även kan vara omöjligt att bekräfta tillförlitligheten i medicinska åldersbedömningar; till följd av bristen på referensgrupper. Efter att ha bekräftat osäkerheten i nuvarande metod för åldersbedömningar fortsätter vi med att undersöka processen för att bevisa din ålder. Vi finner att medan sökanden i teorin har bevisbördan, så finns det på grund av svårigheterna i att fastställa osäkerheter i asylmål en delad utredningsbörda. De rättsliga konsekvenserna av att utredningen inte utförs till den höga standard som krävs faller på staten, som då måste ge sökanden tvivelsmålets fördel eller ”the benefit of the doubt”. Angående det efterföljande ämnet beviskrav, finner vi att vore det inte för den delade utredningsbördan och benefit of the doubt, skulle det vara oöverkomligt svårt för sökanden att bevisa sin ålder. Efter att ha granskat svensk rätt i detalj vidgar vi därefter blicken och utreder effekterna av internationell rätt på åldersbedömning. Vi argumenterar för att om Barnkonventionen ska fungera effektivt måste den även vara tillämpbar på barn som inte har bevisat sin ålder ännu. De ensamkommande barnens bästa måste därför beaktas även vid åldersbedömning. Vidare är FN:s barnrättskommitté samt UNHCR i stöd för att barn ska ges ett generöst benefit of the doubt samt trovärdighetsbedömning. Till sist analyserar vi sammantaget det som vi har funnit ovan och drar bland annat slutsatsen att på grund av den nuvarande, mycket kritiserade, metoden för medicinsk åldersbedömning så bör det alltid anses kvarstå så pass mycket tvivel efter en medicinsk åldersbedömning att staten måste anse att sökanden är ett barn enligt EU-rätt. Vi jämför därefter slutsatserna i denna uppsats med en tidigare kvantitativ studie av överrättsdomar och finner att ingen överklagan av ett tillfälligt åldersbeslut har nått framgång till följd av att myndigheterna inte vill vidkännas att tvivel kvarstår efter en medicinsk åldersbedömning enligt nuvarande metod. (Less)
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@misc{8977100,
  abstract     = {In 2015, Sweden saw a large influx of asylum-seekers into the country, many of whom claimed to be unaccompanied minor. Without personal documents to attest their age, the authorities often doubted these claims of minority, prompting a need for age assessment. The government called for medical age assessments to be developed and introduced and a method for medical age assessment was hastily developed. In 2017 alone, 10,000 medical age assessments were conducted. Eventually, scientists blew the whistle, criticising the method for its insufficient scientific standard and calculating that approximately every third child risks being erroneously classified as an adult under the current method used in Sweden for medical age assessments. With this uncertainty in mind, we investigate Swedish age assessments, under domestic and international law, for the purpose of increased legal certainty for children facing age assessment. 

In this thesis, we first review the process of age assessment. We look at who is subject to age assessment, and what law governs it. Then, we review the current method for medical age assessment, and the criticism that it has received in particular, whilst also reflecting on medical and radiological age assessments in general, and the viability of these methods. We find that the criticism is substantive and that it may be impossible to validate medical age assessments due to a lack of proper reference groups. Having established the uncertainty of current medical age assessments, we move on to the process of proving your age. That is, making your age credible. We find that while the applicant has the burden of proof in theory, due to the difficulty of ascertaining uncertainties in asylum applications, there is a shared burden of inquiry and the legal consequences of not conducting the inquiry to the required high standard befall the State actor. The result being that the child should be given the benefit of the doubt. On the subsequent subject of the standard of proof, we find that were it not for the shared burden of inquiry and the benefit of the doubt, then proving your age would be of insurmountable difficulty. With Swedish domestic law reviewed in detail, we widen the scope and investigate the effects that international law may have on age assessment. We argue that for the Convention on the Rights of the Child to function effectively, it must also apply to children who have yet to prove their age. Thus, consideration of their best interests must be taken. The UNCRC and the UNHCR are in further support of the child being given a liberal benefit of the doubt and assessment of general credibility. Lastly, we analyse the above findings collectively and conclude, inter alia, that because of the highly criticised method for medical age assessment, where the applicant has submitted to the medical examination, there should currently be sufficient doubts of the applicant’s age in every case. Thus, the State must assume that the applicant is a child under EU law. We then compare the conclusions of this thesis with a previous quantitative study of appellate court judgements and find that there have been no successful appeals of a temporary age decision due mostly to Swedish authorities not acknowledging doubts arising from the criticised method for medical age assessment.},
  author       = {Johansson, Emil},
  keyword      = {EU law,public international law,age assessment,unaccompanied minor,migration,asylum,Sweden,medical age assessment,radiological age assessment,benefit of the doubt,burden of proof,burden of inquiry,children's rights,human rights,medicinska åldersbedömningar,åldersbedömning,RMV,shared duty of fact finding,presumption of minority,prima facie child},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Age Assessment of Unaccompanied Minors in Sweden and the Rights of Children},
  year         = {2019},
}