Today a group of armed forces veterans handed in a letter to the MoD calling for an end the recruitment of children aged 16 and 17 into the British Army. The policy has long term harmful effects on young people, argues the letter by Veterans For Peace UK.
Veterans are appealing to ministers to recognise that military training is a brutalising process that no 16 year-old should be put through. Training ‘is a brutal form of psychological conditioning designed to fundamentally alter the way your mind works, leaving the army in control of what you value and how you react, the letter says. These values and reactions are very difficult to switch off and cause all sorts of problems later on in civilian life’.
The British army’s child recruits are more likely than adults to be given jobs in the frontline infantry, which has the toughest training and faces the greatest risks once soldiers turn 18 and are sent to war, according to research by the human rights organisation Child Soldiers International. Infantrymen were six times as likely to die in Afghanistan as soldiers in the rest of the army, according to research by ForcesWatch, the military watchdog group.
Members of Veterans for Peace UK have fought in every conflict in which Britain has been involved since the Second World War. ‘We have seen friends crippled for life right in front of us, and civilian families traumatised by the actions that we carried out under orders,’ said Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and now Coordinator of Veterans for Peace UK. ‘But recruiters still go into schools and show kids pictures of scuba-diving to get them to join up. That’s misleading and it should stop.’
‘Recruiters don’t even have to meet with parents – they just send out the consent forms by post,’ continued Griffin. ‘Parents can feel a lot of pressure to sign, but are given very little specific information of what they’re sending their child into. Army marketing material is designed to conceal the true nature of military service and warfare, not to give a balanced view of all the risks and consequences.’ The UN criticised the UK’s parental consent arrangements as ‘insufficient’ last year.
Also today, Child Soldiers International releases a series of short films which give a frank and graphic account of the experiences of a young soldier who spent seven years in the army. Wayne Sharrocks describes as ‘traumatic’ the intensely violent training he went through at 17, which was designed to produce an ‘insane amount of aggression’, he says, so that he could kill another person at close quarters once he was sent to war. Child Soldiers International has produced the films to give young people and their parents a frank counterbalance to the sanitised image of army life provided by official recruitment materials.
Wayne, who is a member of Veterans for Peace, was severely injured in Afghanistan by an IED, which also ripped the legs off a colleague ten days after another of his colleagues was killed directly beside him. He is currently making a film about the experiences of veterans once they leave the armed forces, in ‘Life after war’.