14 March 2014
In ‘Age assessment practice in Europe’, published last week, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) recommends to Member States the necessary safeguards to ensure that the use of age assessments in asylum procedures is respectful of the rights of children. The publication also explores the advantages and disadvantages of the age assessment methods in use and gives an overview of the international, European and national legal provisions, policy frameworks and available guidance, with a view to promoting good practice among Member States.
In evaluating the available options, EASO chooses not to propose a particular method of age assessment. EASO recommends that age assessment should only be used in cases where there is doubt as to whether the applicant is a child. Assessment should be approached without over-reliance on one single method, as no method is perfectly accurate, and the process should involve the relevant experts. Crucially, EASO states that ‘if a child’s claimed age falls within the range determined by the age assessment, in keeping with the principles of the best interests of the child and the benefit of the doubt, that age should normally be accepted’.
Recommendations also include the prior consideration of documentary evidence before resorting to medical examination and the selection of the least invasive method of examination. The individual and/or their representative where appropriate must have the option, following consultation and a request for consent, to refuse an age assessment and not thereby cause an automatic refusal of the protection claim.
The guiding principle in the recommendations of safeguards is that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration, in accordance with Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
If an individual disagrees with the outcome of an assessment, EASO recommend that there should be an opportunity for them to challenge the decision. Finally, all individuals involved should be provided with initial and on-going training relevant to their expertise.
The publication includes an overview of practice on age assessment as indicated by states. According to the states’ own assessment, Belgium, Greece, Lithuania and Norway currently use all of EASO’s recommended safeguards age assessment of asylum applicants. By contrast, only a few of the safeguards are engaged in Slovenia, Slovakia and Luxembourg.
Procedural safeguards and the promotion of good practices are important because an incorrect assessment of age can lead to a child being denied the necessary assistance and protection they are entitled to.