“In harmony we all shall live,
And share the earth together;
In Virtue train’d, enlighten’d Youth
Will love each fellow-creature;
And future years shall prove the truth
That Man is good by nature:
Then let us toast with three times three
The reign of Peace and Libertie”
The aspirations of Burns, shown in his rousing last stanza in “why should we idly waste our prime” is as pertinent today as it was in the 18th century. Written in a political climate that had resulted in an erosion of civil liberties, as war with France loomed. As the advocates of peace and freedom faced transportation, torture and the gallows.
Today we face an altogether harder task, they exercise their power with gaslighting and deception. Physical oppression has been replaced by marginalisation of objective thinking. Cultural imperialism which intends to put the MOD beyond criticism. Those who dissent are routinely labelled as hating the nation – a rebranding of sedition. Sedition the charge levelled at Thomas Muir, a contemporary of Burns, a practising advocate promoting democratic ideals. He was branded a traitor and deported, yet as the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates said in 2015 “the convicted traitors of one age become the martyred patriots of another.”
Nowhere in society is this display of contempt more exposed than with the current policy that allows children to volunteer for military service: contrary to the UN Convention of the Rights of Child (CRC) and the Paris principles. The UN states that a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years. The UK continues pick and chose our inalienable rights, isolating our standing in the international community and happy to share a policy with Iran, Zimbabwe and North Korea.
The question has to be asked why? Why allow ourselves to shown as hypocrites? Wherein British diplomats advocate human rights abroad but condemn and ignore them at home.
If all that wasn’t enough, we are now aware of the “drip-drip” policy thanks to Colonel David Allfrey. Its intention, to raise awareness with children as young as 7, over a ten year span, to promote joining the army. Think marines abseiling from stands onto football pitches: we all appreciate the spectacle, but what of the virtue? Adults rejoice in the little lies they tell kids – santa, easter bunny and the tooth fairy – but should we pacify war fighting?
Now what about military school visits. The MOD 2007 document ‘Engagement with UK schools’ states that engaging with a school is to encourage good citizenship. Does it aye? Citizenship is a right from birth other than being granted by the authorities. The military has no input in citizenship: therefore, let’s assume they’ve got other intentions in mind: drip drip drip…
The MOD will deny that recruitment is the purpose of school visits or that any child is recruited at school. Yes, no child signs up at school, and just as well because the recruiters would quickly find themselves in the International Criminal Court.
Here we find that the authority over “military school visits” is held with headteachers, as the purpose is dressed as educational – however unenlightened. What then follows is consent or lack thereof. You may ask why should parents be asked to give consent – however it is within Parental Rights provided under article 5 of the CRC.
What about after school? Helpfully the MOD created “Camouflage”. The website states “if you’re 14-16 years old and looking for more info on Army life, then Camouflage is for you. It has been developed by the Army so that you can get up close to real soldiers.” This is none other than a public funded organisation, to recruit children for active service.
In 2003 the UK ratified the ‘optional protocol’ (UN legal speak for amendment/add ons). All articles become legally binding. Including Article 1 which states “States’ Parties shall take all feasible measure to ensure that members of the armed forces who have not attainted the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.”
Yet we know from MOD figures that twenty 17 year-olds served in Afghanistan and Iraq. We can say with sorrow and confidence that as far as the UK is concerned the CRC is null & void.
Article 3 of the CRC, if enacted, would mean risk assessments of 16 and 17 year-olds in recruitment offices by independent health care professionals and consultations to make parents fully aware of the terms of service and obligations on their children.
We can go through each Article of the CRC in turn and continue finding grave violations. The problem is not only about children volunteers. It is about the future and truth. Why if we scoff at laws drafted to protect children from war, can we then expect rights we have to be respected?
Burns ends with “The reign of Peace and Libertie” (freedom) being the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. The rights children volunteers give up before they had the chance to exercise them.
Conor Patrick is a member of Veterans For Peace UK