Quakers and Unitarians have welcomed the move by Julian Huppert, Liberal MP for Cambridge and Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton, to table an Early Day Motion calling on Parliament to raise the age of recruitment into the armed forces to eighteen.
Parliament’s Human Rights Committee has already called for Government action to implement the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child. But as things stand soldiers joining the army as sixteen year-olds, with their parents' support, may be held to their commitment which was made as a minor, for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday.
The Early Day Motion to be tabled in Parliament, with the support of the Quakers and Unitarians, calls for Government action to safeguard the human rights of young soldiers. It states:
That this House notes that sixteen to eighteen year-olds currently entering the armed forces commit themselves to a period of four years beyond their eighteenth birthday; notes that after a period of six months they are unable to leave as of right; notes that no other country in mainland Europe recruits at the age of sixteen; welcomes the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report on children’s rights that the UK adopt a plan of action for implementing the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child; and urges the UK Government to implement the Joint Committee’s recommendations and raise the age of recruitment to eighteen.
In the year 2009/2010, 4675 under eighteens were recruited into the armed forces.
“Under-eighteens are too young to vote, yet they are old enough to join the army. They are too young to buy fireworks, yet old enough to train with live ammunition. They are not legally adult, yet then can make a decision, which binds them for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday and may lead to them serving in Afghanistan,” says Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain.
“Unitarians support the EDM because we value the rights of young people and want them to have the choice of serving or not, at adults aged eighteen,” said Karen Hanley, Chair of Faith and Public Issues for the Unitarians.
The Armed Forces Bill, to be introduced in this session of Parliament will legislate to change the military covenant but will not address the issue of 16 year old recruitment.
The recommendations of Parliament’s Joint Human Rights Committee, for safeguarding the wellbeing of young people in the army, have also yet to be implemented.