Army intensifies intake of 16-year-olds for riskiest roles

By agency reporter
November 25, 2016

Figures released yesterday (24 November 2016) reveal that the British Army has increased its intake of 16-year-olds in the past 12 months, defying calls from the UN, children's rights organisations and others campaigning for an end to the recruitment of minors. In the 12 months to 30 September 2016, the Army enlisted 1,000 16-year-olds (up from 870 in the previous 12 months) accounting for 13 per cent of total enlisted intake. This makes 16-year-olds the single biggest age group entering the Army, for the first time since 2012. The overall intake of minors as a percentage of enlisted recruits rose to 24.1 per cent (up from 22.5 per cent in the previous period), while intake of adults decreased.

The Army's recruitment policies state that it uses recruitment of minors as "an opportunity to mitigate Standard Entry [adult] shortfalls, particularly for the Infantry". The Infantry has the highest fatality and injury rate of any major branch of the armed forces, with infantrymen in Afghanistan seven times more likely to be killed than personnel in the rest of the British armed forces. Army policy also imposes a longer minimum service period on those who enlist under age 18 than on adult recruits.

"Polls show overwhelming public support for a minimum enlistment age of 18. But whatever you think the right age is for joining the Army, nobody can justify targeting 16-year-olds for recruitment into the roles adult recruits don't want to do, and then forcing them to serve for longer than their adult counterparts", said Rachel Taylor, spokesperson for Child Soldiers International.

The Royal Courts of Justice heard a claim against the Army's minimum service period for minors brought by Child Soldiers International in June 2015. In his judgement, Justice Kenneth Parker agreed that the rules discriminated against minors as they did "treat those recruited under 18 less favourably". Despite this, he accepted the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claim that European and national law entitled it to discriminate against Army recruits on the basis of age or disability, without any limits of proportionality. An appeal against the judgment was scheduled to be heard earlier this month at the Court of Appeal, but was withdrawn.

"The MoD claims it is offering disadvantaged young people an opportunity by enlisting them at 16 but in reality, it is exploiting them. These policies put the army's convenience above young people's best interests", said Rachel Taylor.

"If the MoD was serious about offering opportunities to young people, it would encourage them to stay in education until 18 and then offer them a full range of armed forces roles. Instead, it actively encourages them to leave school early and then offers them only the most unpopular, dangerous roles in the armed forces alongside substandard qualifications."

These recruitment figures were released on the same day that the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee decision on a proposal to increase regulation of armed forces' visits to schools.( The proposal is supported by the Children and Young People's Commissioner for Scotland, Tam Baillie, who has provided evidence to the Committee. All four of the UK's Children Commissioners have previously called on the MoD to raise the minimum enlistment age from 16 to 18, in a campaign backed by a range of national and international children's rights organisations, teachers, faith groups, veterans, parliamentarians, and former Defence ministers.

A nationwide IPSOS Mori poll in 2014 found that 78 per cent of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum army recruitment age should be at least 18. In June this year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child condemned the British Army's safeguards for ensuring informed consent of child recruits and their parents as "insufficient" and called on the UK to raise its enlistment age. ( A recent report by medical professionals examining the recruitment of minors in the UK also found that current recruitment practices "do not meet the criteria for full and informed consent" and that military recruitment materials "take advantage of adolescent cognitive and psychosocial vulnerabilities."

* Read more about Child Soldiers International's research on child recruits in the British armed forces here

*  Child Soldiers International is an international human rights research and advocacy organisation seeking to end the military recruitment of any person under the age of 18


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