On the Anniversary of the UN Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child, Quakers in Britain are calling for Parliament to amend the Armed Forces Bill so as to raise the age of enlistment.
A submission to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill recommends, as a first step towards raising the enlistment age, that under eighteen year olds in the army should be able to leave as of right and all those under the age of eighteen should have to make a positive decision on their eighteenth birthday.
12 February 2011 is the anniversary of Parliament`s ratification of the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2002). Quakers in Britain are calling for the amendment of the Armed Forces Bill to give effect to its spirit and purpose.
Britain is the only European country to recruit into the regular army at sixteen. After a cooling off period there is no discharge as of right. Young soldiers may be held to their commitment for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday.
Parliament’s Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill has the power to introduce amendments. Quakers are calling for the Bill’s amendment so that only those who are legally adult can join the army.
The Armed Forces Act needs to be passed every five years and is part of the legal framework that provides for the keeping of a standing army in peace time.
“Britain’s current reservation to the Optional Protocol is so broad as to frustrate its intention,” says Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary, Quakers in Britain.
“Under eighteens are considered too young to vote, yet they are old enough to join the army. Contracts are not normally enforceable against minors. They are not legally adult, yet they can make a decision, which binds them for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday,” he adds.
There are currently over 3,500 under-18s in the armed forces, according to 2010 Ministry of Defence data.
Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends, a radical Christian movement in seventeenth century England.
Around 23,000 people attend nearly 475 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.
Quakers have long campaigned for an end to the use of child soldiers, both globally and in Britain and worked to introduce the cross-party Early Day Motion 781 which has the support of thirty MPs.