SNP Youth motion to raise Army recruitment age passes at conference

Date: 16th October 2017
Category: Children in situations of exploitation, General principles

The SNP Youth group have secured a landmark victory at the party's annual conference as members voted in favour of raising the army recruitment age from 16 to 18.


SNP Youth, as well as Child Soldiers International and Together have long campaigned for the Ministry of Defence to ban the enlistment of 16- and 17-year-olds into the armed forces in the UK.

In their 2016 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child raised concerns regarding the minimum age of voluntary recruitment into the UK armed forces, which remains at 16, and the percentage of new recruits which comprise of under 18 year olds. The Committee also expressed concern at the endorsement by the Army Board to actively increase the recruitment of personnel under 18 years. Further, the Committee noted that children from vulnerable groups are 'disproportionately represented' among recruits and briefing materials that are provided to child applicants are not sufficient in explaining the 'risks and obligations' of entering the forces.

In addition to the Concluding Observations, the Committee published General Comment 20 on the Convention of the Rights of the Child in December 2016 which, for the first time, officially called on all states to ensure the minimum age of recruitment into the armed forces was 18. Despite calls from the UN, three UK Children's Commissioners and children's rights groups to raise the minimum age of recruitment, under 18s continue to make up a significant percentage of new recruits to the armed forces. Figures released by the UK Government in October 2016 revealed that, for the year ending September 30th 2016, 16 year-olds accounted for the single biggest age group entering the army. The number of 16 year-olds recruited has risen in recent years as under 18s are targeted in order to avoid undermanning. Those with experience of working in the armed forces are at increased risk of negative health outcomes such as fatality, PTSD, alcohol misuse and self-harm, and those who enlist at a young age are at particular risk.
Together believes that the minimum age of recruitment should be raised to 18 so that no child is recruited into the armed forces. However, powers relating to this issue do not currently lie with the Scottish Parliament.

Prior to the SNP conference, Together signed a joint statement in support of the SNP Youth motion to be debated at the conference on the 8th October to raise to minimum age of military recruitment to 18.

The motion

At the conference, a majority of party members agreed with the statement to raise the minimum age of military recruitment to 18 and the motion passed with a significant majority.

Rhiannon Spear, Glasgow councillor and SNP Youth national convenor, told the conference: "This is about what society that we want to be, it is about how we value our young people. We believe that the interests and health of Scotland's young people must come before the demands of British military recruiters."

The passing of the motion, which was publicly backed by 17 MSPs, one MP and 12 local branches before Sunday's debate, means that the SNP as a whole will now actively push for an increase in recruitment age.

Under the motion, the SNP will work to get the UK government to raise the recruitment age to 18 for all combat training.

It is significant progress in getting the MoD to address its outdated recruitment policies.

Rachel Taylor, director of programmes, Child Soldiers International, said: "It is fantastic news and shows there is real appetite to change recruitment practices from across the political spectrum."

"The SNP Youth pursued their campaign against a backdrop of scepticism and criticism but their victory shows that the majority of the party are indeed eager for the MoD's out-dated recruitment policy to change."

"The UK remain the only EU and NATO country to recruit at 16 and this victory is a significant step forward in ending the recruitment of children by the UK armed forces."

"Hopefully it will make the major political parties in Westminster sit up and address the issue themselves. It is about time the UK armed forces moved into the 21st century and this latest success can hopefully bring about progress across political lines."