Government promises to allow soldiers under 18 to leave forces

By staff writers
May 20, 2011

The government has promised to give teenage soldiers the right to leave the armed forces up until the age of 18. Currently, forces personnel aged 16 or 17 have no right to leave (after their first six months) until they turn 22.

This announcement has been welcomed by Forces Watch, a network concerned with ethical issues involving the armed forces, and other human rights groups.

Among those who lobbied for the change were, as reported by Ekklesia, Quakers in Britain.

Forces Watch said they will be watching closely as the details are published to ensure that the law is changed in both letter and spirit.

The Minister for Defence Personnel, Andrew Robothan MP, announced the policy yesterday (19 May).

In a statement to the Armed Forces Bill Committee, he wrote, "Following a review of discharge policy I am pleased to announce that, for those under the age of 18, the ability to be discharged will in future be a right up to the age of 18, subject to an appropriate period of consideration or cooling off."

While personnel under 18 are allowed to request discharge if they are "genuinely unhappy", the decision is dependent on the discretion of the commanding officer in question. The legal change will for the first time allow them to leave as of right.

The UK is the only country in Europe to routinely recruit people aged under 18 into the armed forces.

"We are delighted that the government has recognised the injustice of the six-year trap, which forces 16- and 17-year olds to remain in the military until turning 22," said Emma Sangster, Co-ordinator of Forces Watch.

"We will be watching closely to ensure that this change is brought in as quickly as possible when the details are published," she explained.

Sangster insisted that "more needs to be done to address concerns about under-18s in the armed forces".

Last week the Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called for reform of recruitment of under-18s into the armed forces during a presentation in the House of Lords. This was echoed by this week's report from Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights.


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