New report shows medical case for raising age of recruitment to UK Armed Forces to 18

Date: 18th October 2016
Category: Armed conflict

A new Medact report sets out the biological, medical and public health grounds for increasing the age of military enlistment in the UK.

The UK is the only country in Europe and the only permanent member of the UN Security Council to recruit under 18s to the Armed Forces.

Despite the prohibition of deployment of minors to war zones, the UK deployed at least 8 under 18s to war zones in error between 2005 and 2010.

In recent years, a wide variety of experts, groups, and organisations have strongly recommended that the Ministry of Defence raise the minimum recruitment age with immediate effect. These include multiple UN and UK parliamentary bodies such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UK's Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Child Rights International Network (CRIN). Other calls for a rise in recruitment age have come from major British children's organisations, human rights groups, many faith groups, individual MPs from across the political spectrum, and veterans themselves. According to a nationwide poll conducted in 2014, 77% of the general public support a rise in the recruitment age to 18. Together is included in the list of those advocating for raising the age of recruitment.

In this report, the health case is set out for banning the recruitment of children into the UK armed forces, and raising the minimum recruitment age to at least 18 years with immediate effect. This case is broadly based on two main concerns:

  • Those recruited into the armed forces as children have a greater chance of being deployed on the frontline and suffering from long-term physical and mental health problems when compared to those recruited as adults.
  • The current practices of the UK armed forces for recruiting children do not meet the criteria for 'voluntary and informed consent'.

By setting out this case, Medact challenge the argument that the culture of discipline within the armed forces is the most appropriate pathway for troubled teenagers who have suffered from a disordered or difficult home and family life. They contend that it is not the best way to protect vulnerable individuals from being drawn towards criminal or other self-destructive activity. Instead, it is argued that such children are better served by being offered alternative forms of social support and development, including through vocational pathways which are likely to present fewer risks to long-term health and fewer concerns over full and informed consent.