Dr Kavita Lakha

Forensic Anthropologist, NPA

Dr Kavita Lakha is a forensic anthropologist who completed her undergrad and honours at Wits and then received a Nelson Mandela Fellowship to do an MA at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. She recently completed a PhD in Human Biology at the University of Cape Town and works at the Missing Persons Task Team in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), where she conducts forensic investigations in search of activists who disappeared in political circumstances between 1960 and 1994.

Lakha wanted to be a paediatrician when she was growing up. “However, once I entered university the appeal of the sciences remained but the yearning to study medicine had not. I began a BSc in 2002, completed that and furthered my studies by completing an honours in anatomy. It was during this year that we were introduced to the field of forensic anthropology. At our first practical session, the lecturer gave each group a human skull and taught us how to conduct measurements and assessments so that we can determine factors such age, race and sex.

“After this particular practical it all became clear that this was what I wanted to do in life. My current director, Madeleine Fullard, presented a talk to anatomy students interested in forensic anthropology and she showed us the successes of the teams’ exhumations and identifications. Although she thought it had fallen onto deaf ears, I was determined that this was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Lakha enjoys the field because each case is like a puzzle. Her special area of focus in forensic anthropology is age estimation. Her PhD research was able to generate a new standard for age estimation in South African children.

“These standards could also be applied to forensic cases involving human skeletal remains in the absence of identification and soft tissue,” she says.

“It is my hope that these standards can be used to accurately age unknown children who enter the mortuaries, better aiding identification with increased accuracy and speed. I hope to continue collecting data so that the age estimation formulae become more credible.”

It took some time for her parents to accept her choice, as they didn’t believe it would lead to a successful career, and there is also a stigma with working with human remains.

“I am really fortunate and grateful to have a support system, at the pinnacle of which is my husband and our extended families and friends,” says Lakha.

— Kerry Haggard

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ dr-kavita-lakha-37574b16/?ppe=1