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Proposed changes to age assessment raise major safeguarding concerns for child refugees
  1. Catherine Branthwaite
  1. Paediatrics, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Catherine Branthwaite, Paediatrics, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London NW6 3PG, UK; cathy.branthwaite{at}

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The right to seek asylum from persecution is universal and protected under international law in the form of the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.1 Human displacement is a multifactorial global issue impacted by conflict, climate change and human rights violations. These issues hold increasing significance in our current geopolitical landscape.

Children under the age of 18 comprise approximately half of the refugee population in the UK, of which a significant proportion are unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC).2 These children have been separated from their parents and families, having made dangerous journeys to the UK alone or trafficked into the country by people who have exploited their vulnerability. They have often experienced significant trauma and are seeking safety and protection.

As part of an overhaul of the asylum process the current UK government has published a ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’, which the Home Secretary Priti Patel proposes will create a ‘firm but fair system’ that ‘prioritises those in most need of protection’.3 However, within this Bill are proposals to adapt the age assessment process for UASC, placing some of the most vulnerable children at higher risk of danger and exploitation.

The UK has a statutory duty to safeguard all children as stated in the Children Act 1989. UASC are treated as looked-after children under the care of the local authority, receiving essential support such as a guardian, education and safe accommodation. This support is imperative for these children to help them process …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.