MoD’s targeted recruitment of 16-year-olds: update

Date: 26th July 2016
Category: Armed conflict

In May, Child Soldiers International sent an open joint letter - supported by Together - to the Ministry of Defence, calling for the armed forces to stop recruiting children under the age of 18. The MoD have recently responded.

The open letter was signed by the children's rights alliances for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland (Together) and Wales. The signatories, which also include the Children's Commissioners for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, called on the MoD to raise the recruitment age in line with the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The letter pointed out that the UK is the only country in Europe to allow enlistment from age 16 - most countries worldwide now only allow adults from age 18 to join military forces, recognising that enlistment at younger ages is not appropriate in modern armed forces.

The MoD have replied to the joint letter, but Child Soldiers International have expressed disappointment at the response, particularly the inadequacy of engagement with the issue.

The letter is signed off by Penny Mordaunt who was Minister of State for the Armed Forces but has now moved to the Department for Work and Pensions. She has been replaced in her role at the MoD by Mike Penning.

Child Soldiers International note that the Minister has not attempted to specifically address any of the issues and concerns outlined by the organisation in their open letter. A point-by-point review of the MoD's response is as follows:

Paragraph 1 - The CRC itself has said that the safeguards on recruitment are inadequate and called on the UK to raise the enlistment age.

Paragraph 2 - Again, Child Soldiers International have demonstrated that the safeguards are inadequate and the "formal written consent" of a parent/guardian is a tick-box exercise rather than a meaningful involvement in the process. The Army has also admitted it has no way of verifying the signatures, or whether the parent understood the detail of what they were signing up to.

Paragraph 3 - The armed forces are exempt from the legislation on 16 - 18 education. This is the only way they can be considered to "comply", as if a sixth form college operated the same standards it would lose its funding. The Army keeps no records on how many recruits gain accredited qualifications such as GCSEs, and the apprenticeship programmes in which young recruits participate consist primarily of military training with no transferable value outside the armed forces.

Paragraph 4 - The MoD has no evidence basis at all on which to base the claims that deprived young people benefit from enlisting under the age of 18. The lack of "life skills" is a common complaint among veterans, especially the youngest. Raising the enlistment age would not "deny" young people the opportunity to pursue a career in the armed forces, once they reach a more appropriate age.

Child Soldiers International intend to write again to the MoD to express disappointment at the MoD's failure to engage seriously with the issues raised, noting that since the date of their letter, the Committee on the Rights of the Child have concluded that the UK's safeguards on consent are "inadequate". Child Soldiers International will request a meeting with the MoD to discuss the points outlined above.

In the meantime, Child Soldiers International would warmly welcome participation by others in writing to the MoD on this issue in order to press for more engagement.