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Int J Legal Med. 2000;113(5):253-8.

Effects of ethnicity on skeletal maturation: consequences for forensic age estimations.

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Institut für Rechtsmedizin, Universitätsklinikum Charité, Berlin, Germany.


An X-ray of the hand is an important method in forensic science for estimation of the age of juvenile suspects with uncertain date of birth. Relevant X-ray standards for evaluation of skeletal maturity are available for white US Americans as well as for North and Central Europeans. The applicability of these standards to members of ethnic groups different from the reference population has been the subject of controversial discussion. More than 80 publications were analysed with the view to finding out whether skeletal maturation is affected by ethnic identity. It was concluded that skeletal maturation takes place in phases which are identically defined for all ethnic groups. Time-related differences in passing those stages of skeletal maturation within the relevant age group appear to be unaffected by ethnic identity. It is the socioeconomic status of a given population which is of decisive importance to the rate of ossification. The application of X-ray standards to individuals of a socio-economic status lower than that of the reference population usually leads to underestimation of that person's age. In terms of criminal responsibility, this is of no adverse effect on the person concerned.

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