SA tech helps to ID dead children

2014-04-30 12:26
Dr Kyra Stull measures a femur that is part of the Pretoria Bone Collection at the University of Pretoria. (Jolandie Myburgh)

Dr Kyra Stull measures a femur that is part of the Pretoria Bone Collection at the University of Pretoria. (Jolandie Myburgh)

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Cape Town - A technique developed by a University of Pretoria researcher may help to easily and reliably identify the remains of missing children.

Forensic anthropologist Dr Kyra Stull has developed a tool as part of her doctoral research in anatomy at UP, using technology developed by Lodox.

Stull used the Lodox Statscan to accurately measure skeletons of children younger than 12 years old to determine their gender and age.

"The machine was originally designed in South Africa for the diamond mining industry but has since been used in hospitals and morgues worldwide," Stull said.

While the technology is relatively new in SA, it has already been put to use in the Western Cape province where the 18 facilities see about 10 000 sudden deaths per year - and 30% of those are murders.

The Lodox Statscan machine can give the pathologist an instant view of where in the body foreign objects, like bullets may be.

Accurate technique

This makes extraction for court cases easier and allows the department to conduct speedier examinations and expedites the release of the remains.

"In the Western Cape, we're very fortunate; we’ve got very supportive top management in terms of ensuring we've got the necessary skills and capacity," Bonita Thompson, director of Forensic Pathology for the Western Cape province told News24.

A Lodox Statscan radiographic image of a child around 4 years of age is seen. (Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital)

Stull sourced skeletal information from 1 380 children from Cape Town's Salt River Forensic Pathology Service and Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital.

She used the information to develop the first accurate technique to estimate the age and gender of children.

"Estimating age from the skeletal components of a living child is complex. It is even more difficult when the child is deceased and unknown," said Stull.

She said that the analysis of a skeleton was key to help police identify the victim.

"The main goal of a forensic anthropological analysis is to establish an accurate biological profile consisting of estimations of sex, age, ancestry and stature of unidentified human remains. The biological profile is then used by the police to narrow down the list of missing individuals to ultimately identify the person."

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