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