Thursday, 17 January 2013

To the Desks of Indian media

Forensic Expert extends help to estimate the age of suspected Juvenile involved in Delhi Gang-rape case

Dr Jayakumar Jayaraman, an expert in Forensic age assessment has extended his willingness to estimate the age of the suspected juvenile in Delhi rape case. He is involved in this field of research for more than 5 years and he is working with the Dental Age Assessment Team (DAAT) in London, United Kingdom. He is recently appointed as a representative to the United Nations from a Brazilian organization where he works for Age Assessment for Climate Change Refugees. Dr Jayakumar is currently pursuing Doctorate degree in theUniversity of Hong Kong

                                                Dr Jayakumar Jayaraman ( Pudukkottai, Tamilnadu)

 In the Delhi gang-rape case, there is no clear indication on the exact age of the juvenilewho claims his age as 17 years and 6 months years. Following this, the court has inquired
the possibilities for finding the exact age of the suspect. Principal of the school where the
suspect attended earlier was asked to witness the age but there exists controversy as the age recorded in the school was a testimony given by his parents and not based on authentic birth certificate. In this situation, the court has asked the authorities to assess the age by obtaining a bone scan which Dr Jayakumar claims is old-fashioned method. He also disagree the use of bones for age assessment since they are highly influenced by environmental modifications.

Alternatively, Dr Jayakumar proposes a method which could accurately estimate the age
from analysis of the suspect’s dental development. This method was developed by the Dental Age Assessment Team in London where age estimation has been conducted for more than 1000 children and juveniles seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. He shares his views on importance of age assessment and on the current and ongoing issue of age estimation of a  juvenile in Delhi Gang-rape case.

What is Age Assessment?

Age Assessment is a process by which an age is established from evaluating development
of an individual. This procedure is conducted in cases where there is lack of an authentic
birth certificate document or a dispute in the claimed age. Most often age is estimated from the skeletal or dental development and the latter is preferred as they are least subjected to changes from environment and nutrition.

Can you explain your field of research?

The Dental Age Assessment Team (DAAT) in London has established an accurate and
reliable method of age assessment. I particularly work on analyzing dental development
of Chinese population in Hong Kong. We have collaborators in United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Caribbean islands and also in India. This research aims at recording dental development patterns of different identifiable human groups. As for now, the database we created consists of 10000 plus subjects from different ethnicity. To date, this is the most comprehensive reference data available in the world. Another importance of our method is that it has been subjected to validation and proved accurate at different age thresholds. In order to provide an age for an individual, his or her dental development will be analyzed from a radiograph and the corresponding scores obtained from the database. We use a unique mathematical computation called meta-analysis which provides mean age with a range at different confidence intervals.

What is your view on bone density test to be taken for the juvenile in the Delhi rape case?

Skeletal age assessment process is inaccurate and there is sufficient scientific evidence
to prove this fact. The main reason is that they are easily modified by environmental
and nutritional changes. For example, in case of Vitamin D deficiency, skeletal tissues
were affected resulting in varying growth patterns; however, dental development remains
unaltered. Lack of comprehensive reference data is also a possible reason which could result in unrealistic age estimates. The most commonly used skeletal age assessment method is from wrist bones development and the standards developed for this purpose is more than 50 years old. This method of age estimation has been seriously criticized across the globe and many countries, including Australia have recently with held this method of age assessment.

Hence, age assessed from bone development would not result in accurate estimate of age.

What are the other problems associated with poor birth registration?

The lack of age proof document has various forensic and legal implications. In western
countries, this has affected the immigration process following false asylum claims. Delays commonly occur in processing the asylum status whether they should be treated as children or adults, especially when they borderline cases. The immigrants may become antisocial elements to the host country challenging the stability of communities and they become a drain in the economy. Whether they are a child or an adult, the country has to spend purely because it is the responsibility of the country to provide welfare and provisional care. In the year 2010, around £2 billion has been spent by the United Kingdom Border Agency for the welfare of asylum seekers. Similarly, the Australian government has spent over one billion Australian dollars, four times higher the amount spent in the year 2009.

What is your view on the legal authorities concern to reduce the “age of majority” to 16 years?

In a legal scenario, there are different ages of medico-legal importance. For example, In
India the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) has been set at 7 years. It means that a child under 7 years cannot be charged for any criminal action because law identifies that at this age, the mental capacity of the child is not “well” established to commit a crime. Conversely, in the United Kingdom, the MACR is fixed at 10 years. The ages of criminal responsibilities expands to 18 years of age and includes other legal considerations including age limitation to consume alcohol, consent to have sex, right to vote, right to work and to marry. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as “any person below the age of eighteen years” (CRC, Art. 1) and this applies to all the 193 countries which has ratified this treaty, including India. This age is also called ‘Age of majority” that entitles an individual to enjoy the benefit of an adult under legal circumstances.

In this context, in India, there is a tremendous increase in the number of juveniles arrested for crime. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the year 2011 alone, more than 21000 juveniles aged 16 to 18 years have been arrested for criminal charges. The number of cases charged for rape in 2010 was exceedingly high, atleast thrice than those filed in the  year 2001. Considering poor birth registration and growing increase of crimes has given an indication that the need for age assessment would become mandatory in the years to come.

Lowering the “Age of majority” to 16 years would be just a transient solution to the existing Delhi Gang-rape issue; however, the problems associated in this age threshold would still remain the same.

How would your field of research benefit India?

According to the UNICEF, in India, only 49% of children were registered at birth. Although the Birth and Death Acts 1969 configures this as a human right and encourages registration,this has not been followed across the state. The risks of undocumented birth date includes marriage at an early age, forced labor, enlistment in armed forces and if accused of crime,prosecution as an adult and vice-versa. This has also resulted in falsified testimonials of age when a child wants to enroll in a school or work in a factory. Although the government had taken steps to ensure that every birth gets registered, there is a practical problem in registering the births in rural places as most often, delivery of babies do not occur in the hospital setting. This results in a serious setback for registering all the births in India.

Although the Government of India’s National Population Policy has set the target to achieve 100% birth registration by 2010, the UNICEF’s statistics published in 2011 acknowledges that birth registration is still around 50%. This infers that millions of children in India haveno birth record and there is a vulnerability of these children to involve in criminal activitiesand escape with false age documents. Anticipating these problems in advance, our method of assessment can help provide age for these children. The age provided by us would then serve as their legal identity document which can be legally used in any circumstances. Moreover,the Government of India must embark on strict policies to register every birth occurring in India.

What will you require if you were to estimate the age of Delhi-Gang rape suspect?

I will be delighted to involve in this case and estimate the age of the suspect. With a written consent, we will be obtaining few radiographs to evaluate the development pattern of the suspect’s third molars. The scores corresponding to each tooth and the stage of development will be obtained from the DAAT database. Using statistical analysis, we will be able to provide “mean” age with upper and lower age limits at certain confidence intervals. The estimated age can be used at the court of law. We can also provide sufficient documentary evidence to support our method of age assessment which is universally accepted, published extensively and well received by the scientific community. Scientific research is all about integrating the findings of the research into practice. I am looking forward to introduce our method in India which could benefit the children and the country.                                                             
      By  Panneerselvan athiba

Dr Jayakumar's email Id :