People under 18 are not allowed to buy fireworks in the UK - yet thousands are training in the British Army with lethal weapons. Quakers in Britain are calling for the government to raise the age of army recruitment. They say those under 18 who are currently in the army should be able to leave as of right, and should not make a decision to be in the army until they legally become adults.
Britain is now the only European country to recruit 16-year-olds into the army. Last year more than 4,000 under-18s were recruited into the armed forces.
Under-18s need their parents' consent to join. After an initial cooling off period there is no discharge as of right. They may be held to their commitment, for four years beyond their 18th birthday. This is two years longer than those joining at 18. Those leaving without the consent of their commanding officer may be subject to prosecution in military courts.
Parliament is currently debating the Armed Forces Bill and will have the opportunity to introduce amendments. Quakers are calling for its amendment to ensure 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 allows for the keeping of a standing army in peace time.
"It is time for the UK to adopt a more consistent attitude to the age of adult responsibility," says Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary, Quakers in Britain. "Under-18s are considered 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 18th birthday. Decisions made as a child have irrevocable consequences as an adult and may lead to them serving in Afghanistan.
"Parliament's Joint Human Rights Committee made recommendations for safeguarding the wellbeing of young people in the army in 2009. The Armed Forces Bill represents the best opportunity of putting these into practice," he added. The Committee called, in particular for UK Government action to implement recommendations of the UN Committee on Human Rights regarding the UN Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child.