Army increases recruitment of minors

New figures out this week show that 24 per cent of British Army recruits are child soldiers. This is despite public opposition from Quakers and many others who are campaigning to raise the age of enlistment.

children clambering over tank
Meeting the military

The Ministry of Defence released the UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics 2016. They show that the proportion of the Army's intake aged under 18 increased from 22.5 per cent to 24.1 per cent. The armed forces as a whole recruited 1,140 16-year-olds and 1,250 17-year-olds, from a total of 12,300 new recruits.

Child Soldiers International say Army recruitment policies place the minors in the riskiest roles in the infantry and forces them to serve longer minimum service periods. Recruits aged 16 have a total minimum service period of six years, while 17-year-olds must serve for five. Adults can be discharged after four years' service.

The UK is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that still recruits 16-year-olds.

Meanwhile, this week Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee agreed to discuss further a proposal to increase regulation of armed forces' visits to schools.

The Committee received evidence from public bodies on the joint petition from ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland. The Committee has now agreed to consult with a range of other organisations, including from young people's organisations, children's rights groups, veterans organisations and those responsible for careers provision.

Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch made a joint submission to the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee. They referred to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 2016 which recently reviewed the UK's position on implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UNCRC expressed concern that the armed forces carry out pre-recruitment activities at a young age in schools, with emphasis on areas of disadvantage and marketing practices that fail to give a balanced view of life in the armed forces.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends:

  • recruitment is 'genuinely voluntary and based on fully informed consent' and 'does not have a discriminatory impact on children of ethnic minorities and low income families'.
  • 'recruitment practice does not actively target persons under the age of 18 and ensure that military recruiters' access to school be strictly limited'.

Watch The Unseen March – Quaker view on recruitment