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The nature and scope of the problem of identifying unidentified bodies at medico-legal mortuaries in South Africa : a medico-legal perspective.

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In South Africa, the high rate of violent deaths, the lack of proper identification documents, and internal migration within the country stemming from the previous socio-political dispensation of society, has led to a high incidence of unidentified human bodies being found, a large proportion of which are skeletal remains, mainly of indigent Black persons. The low incidence of dental records, especially in disadvantaged, rural populations adds to the failure of identification. Without positive identification of individuals, an inquest or criminal case cannot succeed. In routine post mortem practice, only broad groupings of identity are recorded before disposal of remains. The basic rights of these deceased individuals to be properly identified with regards to police investigations and other legal, religious and cultural requirements are disregarded. Further, a large number of persons are reported missing on a daily basis in the country, some never to be found. This study suggests that national legislation be developed to allow for the administration of affairs in respect of missing persons and unidentified bodies, with regulations under this to provide for the mandatory preservation and storage of all medical and radiological records, a national policy and a national plan of action be established to deal with the burden of missing persons and found bodies, and the establishment of a central database of records of unidentified bodies and missing persons. The study also reviews the strengths and weaknesses of available human identification techniques that can be used to facilitate the identification of bodies, and by use of a case report, proposes to demonstrate to the South African Courts that frontal sinus radiographic identification comprises a useful, rapid and inexpensive method as an application in forensic science that can be compared to the individuality of fingerprints, and serves as a reliable additional method in establishing human identity.


Thesis (LL.M.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2007.


Autopsy., Forensic pathology., Identification., Theses--Law.