Peace groups voice concern as British Army increases recruitment of under-age soldiers

Image: Quakers in Britain

Image: Quakers in Britain

New figures out this week show that 24 percent of British Army recruits are child soldiers. This is despite public opposition from the Quakers and other Christian and lay organisations campaigning to raise the age of enlistment. 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 percent to 24.1 percent. 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 UNCRC recommended that:

· 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'.

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi told ICN: "Forces Watch and the Quakers in Scotland are to be congratulated on this work which will help to protect under-18s who are recruited into the military and more importantly move the UK towards a policy that will stop the recruitment of under-18s.

"Pax Christi is disturbed by the access to schools that the military enjoy,an often unquestioned access, particularly in areas of deprivation. It is a sign of our impoverished imagination and will if the only work or training opportunity we give young people from deprived areas is within the military - an experience which, from the report, may actually damage them. If the same resources were invested in other forms of education and training for the needs of communities these young people would be better served."

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Source: Quakers/Pax Christi

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