Ahead of the House of Commons debate on the Armed Forces Bill on Wednesday 16 December, ForcesWatch has published a new report calling for a change in the law ending military recruitment under 18 years of age.
This report, highlights seven recommendations from the Defence Committee’s report Duty of Care: Third Report of Session 2004-05 which, ten years on, have not been partially or fully implemented, and around which substantial concerns about the welfare of young recruits remain.
An amendment to ensure that only those above 18 years of age are able to enlist in the armed forces will be debated in the House.
Britain is the only country in Europe and sole permanent member of the UN Security Council which enlists 16 and 17 years old into its armed forces.
This policy has been called into question by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and many other respected bodies, including Children’s Commissioners. A number of other bodies, including the Defence Committee have called for the policy to be reviewed.
The welfare of young recruits became a significant matter of concern for MPs after the deaths of four young soldiers at the military training barracks at Deepcut in Surrey. The Defence Committee’s Duty of Care report recommended many changes to the way that the armed forces approach its duty of care responsibilities. A number of important recommendations, with particular relevance to the youngest recruits who are under the age of 18 have not been partially or fully implemented. These include:
- The Ministry of Defence should examine the potential impact of raising recruitment age for all three services to 18.
- Information available to potential recruits, and their parents, must make clear the rights, responsibilities and the nature of the commitment, and be written in language that potential recruits will understand
- Recruitment standards should not be diluted.
- The MoD must ensure that under-18 year olds do not undertake armed guard duty.
ForcesWatch coordinator, Emma Sangster, said:
“A thorough and independent review of the age of recruitment has not been done by the Ministry of Defence. We urge the Prime Minister to – as he often puts it – ‘do the right thing’ and heed calls from the United Nations to raise the age of recruitment without delay.
“All four deaths at Deepcut involved a young recruit on guard duty, and two were just 17, yet the practice of under-18s taking part in armed guard duty continues to this day and does so despite the Duty of Care report from MPs.
“In essence the MoD are prioritising operational effectiveness over the rights and welfare of young people in its care. We think MPs on all sides would wish to rectify this situation and bring Britain fully into line with international standards on the age of military recruitment.”
An amendment to the Armed Forces Bill will be debated during the House of Commons Third Reading on Wednesday 16 December. This amendment ensures that only those above 18 years of age are able to enlist in the Armed Forces.