26 April would be a date that 22 refugee children will always remember. This is the date when they received valid age reports from specialists in this field – Dr Jayakumar Jayaraman, our very own Paediatric Dentist and Prof Phrabhakaran Nambiar an eminent forensic odontologist from MAHSA (previously from Universiti Malaya). Following a request from Dignity for Children (DFC) Foundation in Malaysia to estimate the ages of their refugee children, Dr Jayakumar with the help of Date of Birth (DOB) Foundation, founded by Dr Jayakumar in Hong Kong in 2013 and IMU Cares collaborated with Prof Phrabhakaran on this project for this community.
All the children were brought to IMU Oral Health Centre for comprehensive dental assessment and dental radiographs were taken for diagnostic purposes. Dr Jayakumar and Prof Phrabhakaran evaluated the radiographs, conducted dental age estimation and prepared the reports.
An evidence-based method developed at King’s College London Dental Institute was employed in this assessment. This method assesses the development of teeth and obtains values from published reference dataset and the age generated includes mean dental age as well as standard deviation of the age. The tentative date of birth was estimated from the estimated mean dental age and the date of examination of the child. The age reports provided can be used as a reference to obtain legal documentation.
“The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) statistics indicates that in 2016, there were around 150, 000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia. Majority of them are children who were born to refugee parents. Malaysia had not signed treaty with United Nations Refugee Protocol and due to this, children born to refugee parents cannot register their birth and most often, they lack documentation of proof of age. The age of these children becomes a dispute leading to difficulty in enrolling in a school or obtaining any form of official documentation.”
One of the UNHCR’s key directive for 2018 is to enrol 75% of school aged refugee children in primary education. Without knowing the age of a child, it would be difficult to allocate in appropriate class in the school. In the circumstances of lack of birth documentation, age can be estimated from skeletal or dental development of an individual. Dental estimation results in fairly accurate estimate of age as the dental tissues are least affected by nutritional and environmental influences.
This project was completed in 2 months and finally on 26 April 2018 the children from DFC Foundation were invited to IMU to be presented their age reports. The birthday cake cutting ceremony was preceded by a dialogue with the experts and conducted by Miss Arlene Yu Mei Shian, Semester 7 dental student who is incidentally conducting a research project in this area in Cambodia. Over 50 people attended the event of which more than half were members of the public, staff and students who were invited to join in the celebration and were made more aware of how this science is helping communities. Prof Khoo Suan Phaik, Prof Ong Kok Hai from IMU Cares, Prof Allan Pau, Dean of the School of Dentistry were amongst the many who were at the celebration.
This article first appeared in IMU News on 22 May 2018. IMU Cares and DOB Foundation is offering to provide this service free of charge to children in Malaysia without documented birth records. For further details, please contact IMU Cares Office.