Maria was 15, according to her paperwork, when she fled Cameroon by plane to Madrid. She had suffered domestic sexual abuse and was about to be forcibly married to an older man.
But Spanish authorities did not believe she was a minor, on the basis of a medical examination of her bodily development.
Maria – not her real name – is one of dozens of cases taken up by NGOs. They accuse Spain of violating young migrants’ rights by subjecting them to invasive medical checks while ignoring their identity documents.
In a doctor’s report seen by the BBC, the development of Maria’s breasts was described as adult. The report for Madrid’s immigration prosecution service said she had hair under her arms and pubic hair.
“This is a girl who has been the victim of sexual abuse, and has been stripped naked in front of a doctor in the prosecutor’s headquarters to determine, by the size of her breasts, whether or not she was older than she said,” says Lourdes Reyzábal, president of the Raíces foundation, which works with unaccompanied foreign minors.
he medical tests usually involve a physical examination, followed by either or both a bone age study on a person’s wrist and a dental age estimation. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has special responsibility in these cases and the country’s ombudsman has criticised its use of the tests.
Of 5,600 examinations in 2017, a year with a high number of migrant arrivals in Spain, 2,205 concluded the individual was an adult, not under 18 as claimed.
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