Quakers seek armed forces discharge rights for under 18s

By staff writers
May 16, 2011

Quakers want Britain's 'duty of care' to its armed forces to include the provision of a right-of-discharge for under eighteen-year-olds.

Quakers in Britain - also known as the Religious Society of Friends - are supporting a new clause amending the Armed Forces Bill. (New Clause seven.)

The amendment, tabled by Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, will entitle under 18 year olds to leave the Armed Forces by giving two weeks’ notice.

Britain is the only European country to recruit into the regular army at sixteen. After an initial six months there is no discharge as of right. Young recruits may be held to their commitment for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday.

“Quaker commitment to equality and to peace impels us to call for a change in the law regarding under eighteens in the army, explained Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for the Quakers in Britain.

He added: “A statutory duty of care to the armed forces needs to include a right of discharge for all under eighteens. A 16 year old joining the army is still legally a child, too young to vote or to have any say over how the army may be used. Yet they can make a decision, which binds them for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday.”

The Westminster parliament’s Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill has completed its scrutiny of the Bill and has done nothing to address the anomaly that requires junior soldiers to make longer commitments than those joining as adults.

Sixteen-year-olds joining the Armed Forces are required to serve for six years while those joining at 18 are required to serve for four. After an initial six months they have no discharge as of right.

There are currently 580 sixteen year olds and 1,970 seventeen year olds serving in the armed forces, according to Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures.

Quakers, alongside Mennonites and other 'historic peace churches', have a long history of nonviolence and the rejection of militarism.


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