United Kingdom

Optional Protocol:
Ratified June 2003
Compulsory recruitment age:
No conscription in law
Voluntary recruitment age:
16
United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is one of a group of fewer than 20 states which have a minimum voluntary recruitment age of 16 years. As such it is out of step with the prevailing trend towards a global ban on the recruitment of anyone below 18 years of age.

According to British government policy under-18s in the British armed forces are prohibited from participation in armed conflict, but this policy can be overruled if there is a “genuine” military need or if it is otherwise impracticable to withdraw minors before deployment. Its systems for tracking personnel to ensure that under-18s are not deployed has reduced, but not entirely stopped, soldiers from being inadvertently deployed to operation theatres before they turn 18, and the UK has repeatedly exposed children to the risk of participation in hostilities.

Following campaigning by Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch, in June 2011 the government announced an amendment to existing Armed Forces regulations granting under-18s in the armed forces discharge as a right. Prior to this, discharge of "unhappy minors" was at the discretion of their commanding officer.

UN experts and various UK parliamentary bodies have on many occasions recommended that the Ministry of Defence reviews the recruitment age, with a view to raising it to 18 years, but to date no such review has been undertaken.

Our work in the UK aims to:

  • Persuade the UK government to raise the age of voluntary recruitment in the British armed forces from 16 to 18 years.

Watch the Guardian's film on the UK's recruitment policy. Source: FatRatFilms.co.uk, Chris Atkins, Gemma Atkinson, Fred Grace and Mustafa Khalili

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