The increasing volume of, and subsequent complexities resulting from, migratory flows in the broader context of globalization has led to a range of problems, not only the protection of human rights and disease control but also the identification of those with the right to apply for refugee status and the age assessment of unaccompanied minors. Italy is a magnet for immigration from other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea because the Italian coasts are within easy reach.
In Italy, as in other western countries, unaccompanied asylum seekers deemed to be younger than 18 years face a very different path through the immigration system from that experienced by adults. Generally, adults are subject to immediate deportation or detention in jail. Minors are processed through the juvenile system, where detection is not mandatory; they will often have access to educational programs and may be granted a residency permit.
The Section of Legal Medicine of the University of Bari was approached by immigration police authorities and judges to explore the possibility of examining unaccompanied asylum seekers, who claim do be younger than 18 years, to assess their age.
A group of forensic pathologists and odontologists performed this evaluation relying on the skeletal maturation as seen on radiographs of the wrist and the pelvis for iliac crests and on an orthopantomograph, together with background information and clinical examination of each individual. Case studies are presented.
This article does not attempt to give a definitive account of the different scientific methods for the assessment of age. It is important to understand some of the methods that may be used in an attempt to assess developmental maturity and from which it may be possible to "read off" an approximate chronological age.