On 12 August, news broke of one of the biggest-ever abuse case in the UK armed forces. The Daily Mail revealed that 17 former Army instructors at the Army Foundation College are facing 40 charges of battery, ill-treatment and actual bodily harm against six 17-year-old Army recruits.

The charges relate to a ‘battle camp’ held for 200 recruits in Kirkcudbright, Scotland and the report says allegations centre on the instructors “pushing the recruits’ heads under water until they choked and forcing animal excrement into their mouths during a training exercise.”

Allegations of mistreatment and bullying of teenage recruits in the armed forces is nothing new. Child Soldiers International has heard accounts from teenage recruits of a culture of bullying and incidents of sexual harassment against 16- and 17-year-old recruits.

News of the pending court case – preliminary hearings are slated for 21 and 22 September – follows a recent BBC investigation into historical sex abuse in Britain’s cadet forces.

Rachel Taylor, director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, said: “The alleged abuse of teenage recruits in the British Army is shocking. Instructors are supposed to be trustworthy, but allegations of mistreatment are common. The army is simply not a safe or suitable environment for 16- and 17-year-olds.

“It has put the spotlight once more on the Army’s outdated policy of leaning on children to fill the ranks. The UK and Belarus are the only two countries in Europe that enlists from age 16.

“These latest allegations of abuse highlight once again the brutal reality of Army life for teenage recruits. They make clear the need for a serious rethink of recruitment policy, which expects children from age 16 to fill the army's ranks. It's high time for change.

“The Army’s recruitment of school-aged children must stop. Child Soldiers International is calling on Theresa May’s government and the MoD to stop exploiting children and raise the recruitment age to 18.

“If such allegations had come from within a school environment the public outcry would be huge. However, given the opaque nature of court martial proceedings the opportunity for scrutiny is sadly diminished and so it is paramount that public spotlight remains on the case and the truth prevails.”

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Banner image credit: Gertrud Zach via Wikimedia