CONCERNED PARENTS say that organisers of ‘family’ events for Armed Forces Day next weekend may be giving children a misleading picture of war and the military.

With Armed Forces Day events returning on 25 June after a two-year break due to the pandemic, most are expected to involve no restrictions on the age of people invited to handle weapons. Previous Armed Forces Day events have seen children as young as six or seven invited to sit at the controls of artillery pieces and tanks.

Several parents have told the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain’s leading pacifist campaign group, that they are worried about children being presented with an image of weapons and war as fun and exciting. They fear that it could have a negative effect on children’s emotional wellbeing as well as their attitudes to others.

Research by the PPU has found that over a quarter of public events for Armed Forces Day are promoting activities aimed at children. Examples include a ‘family fun day’ in Eccles, a ‘community play day’ in Oxfordshire and a ‘junior field gun competition’ for schools in Portsmouth.

The National Event for Armed Forces Day, to be held this year in Scarborough, involves children staging military parades this week in the run-up to the actual Day.

The exception is Leicester, where local authorities prevent armed forces from inviting children to handle weapons, following a campaign by local residents.

Young people and teachers have also spoken with the PPU about their objections to Armed Forces Day celebrations in schools.

Members and allies of the PPU will join protests at the National Event in Scarborough and at Armed Forces Day events elsewhere to highlight the dangers to children and to call for military leaders to be held to account.

Nicola, mother of a four-year-old child in Birmingham, said: “This is really scary. Children such as my daughter will be invited to handle real weapons as if they were toys. This is not the message that we should be giving children about weapons! I want my daughter to learn about the realities of war as she gets older, not given the idea that war is some sort of game.”

Ed, father of two primary-age children in Cardiff, said: “Parents spend a lot of time and emotional energy reinforcing to children the message that violence isn’t the right way to solve problems. But that message is massively diluted at Armed Forces Day events where they are encouraged to think that violence is the answer to the world’s ills. It flies in the face of everything we should be teaching the next generation.”

Angelica, a 14-year-old in North Wales, said: “They try to make it out to children that if you are in the army you are a tough man and a hero but it’s nothing like that. Encouraging guns and violence is wrong. Why would anyone let a child near guns as if they were toys?”

This is the first Armed Forces Day since information emerged about the levels of abuse of young recruits in the armed forces, particularly at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, where 16- and 17-year-old recruits are trained.

Research by the Child Rights International Network found that one in 29 of the young women aged 16 or 17 who joined the army in 2021 had reported being raped or sexually assaulted within a year. The PPU is concerned that events such as Armed Forces Day help military leaders to sweep such issues under the carpet.

* Read Child Rights International Network’s research on sexual violence against girls in the UK armed forces here.

* Read Parents of under-18 recruits speak out about abuse at army training centre here.

* Source: Peace Pledge Union