Public health charity publishes damning report and calls for minimum recruitment age to be raised to 18.
The UK stands apart from most countries worldwide in recruiting children into the armed forces. This needs to change. Most people and many bodies concerned with the rights andprotection of children think that the minimum age for consent to enter the armed force
should be eighteen years.
In this report, we describe the biological and physiological reasons why children should not be encouraged to make a decision to join the armed forces. 16 and 17 year olds (and to a lesser extent, many young adults as well) are still maturing emotionally and intellectually. This period of development is characterised by more impulsive and emotionally driven decision-making, which is only tempered by cognitive and rational decision-making processes further on in the developmental trajectory.
On top of this, this report describes how military recruitment is concentrated among 16 and 17 year olds who may be particularly vulnerable to marketing techniques and materials that glamorise war, and fall short of being comprehensively truthful about life in the military.
All too often, the claim is made that military life can be good for troubled adolescents. The argument is that the military can provide discipline and a sense of purpose for individuals
who may be struggling with education, or who are engaged in self-harming or antisocial behaviour. There are two things wrong with this viewpoint. First, there is evidence that military life may be harmful to the health and wellbeing of those recruited as adolescents. Second, there are other ways to support adolescents who are struggling with their education and social situation, and if the military is presented as the only viable option, then the recruitment of under 18s cannot be considered to be consensual.
This report is focused on the wellbeing of children, and particularly those that are recruited into the military. But by challenging this practice, it also speaks to a wider issue of how the military interacts with our school systems and society more generally.
In our view, the UK’s over-reliance on the use of military force to ensure national security is misguided, and results in part from an over-militarised culture that crowds out the need to use preventative measures to combat the threat of war and violent conflict. Indeed, the peace agenda has become all the more important owing to a growing recognition that national security cannot be achieved in isolation of a global security that meets the basic
needs of all countries, and all peoples.
As the world shrinks and the earth degrades, national security will only be achieved if we are more intentional and forward thinking about seeking peace, preventing violent conflict and promoting equity. We know from the scientific literature that the determinants of peace include, among other things, democratic governance; gender equity; strong legislation on arms control; and tolerance across religious, ethnic and national divides.
If we invested more in the disciplines of conflict transformation, peacebuilding and peace education, developing positive peace initiatives across all strata of society, more children would recognise that military force is not the only way to secure their future. In the
meantime, it’s time to join all other permanent members of the UN Security Council and all other countries in the EU, and end the recruitment of children into the armed forces.
Dr David McCoy
Director of Medact, medical doctor, public health physician and academic