London, 30 July 2018 

A new ICM survey commissioned by Child Soldiers International has revealed that a large majority of the public believe the British army recruitment age should be 18 or above.

The nationwide survey, commissioned along with Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts, ForcesWatch and Medact and conducted in July 2018, found that 72% of respondents who expressed a view believe the minimum enlistment age to the army should be 18 or above.

53% of those who expressed a preference think the minimum age should be 18 and 10% said recruitment should start from age 21.

The Ministry of Defence has long been criticised for allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to join the armed forces. The UK is the only European country which allows those aged 16 to join. Latest MoD figures reveal that more than 25% of those who joined the army in March 2018 were aged under-18. 

It emerged in June that the MoD was using paid-for Facebook adverts to target GCSE students for recruitment during exam periods. While last year the £3m This Is Belonging recruitment campaign was revealed to be disproportionately targeting working-class young people.

The briefing documents for the 2017 recruitment campaign singled out C2DEs – marketing speak for those in the lowest social brackets – as being prime targets for recruitment from aged 16.

A large majority of those who expressed a preference in C2 (71%) and DE (68%) social brackets surveyed by ICM believe recruitment should be open to those aged 18 or above. 

The youngest age group surveyed (18-24-year-olds) were among those who thought recruitment should start from at least 18 years of age. 75% of 18-24-year-olds, excluding those who said ‘don’t know’, think recruitment should start from 18, compared with only 68% of 55-64-year-olds who expressed a preference.

Geographically, 75% of respondents who expressed a preference in the north of England believe it should be 18 or above.  

Rachel Taylor, Child Soldiers International’s head of campaigns, said: “The survey results are conclusive. A significant majority of the UK public believe the army should only be recruiting adults. 

“Significantly, this survey shows that people, regardless of their background or location, are in general agreement that army enlistment should begin from age 18 or above.

“The MoD’s current policy of recruiting soldiers from 16 is not only at odds with the majority of the world - the UK is the only European country to do so – but it is now also clear that a large majority of the public believe the minimum recruitment age should be higher.

“Raising the recruitment age to 18 would allow those who are genuinely interested in a career in the armed forces to make a fully informed choice.

“The argument that the British Army is providing opportunities not otherwise available to some 16-year-olds is misguided. The fact that more than 1,000 16- and 17-year-olds join the army each year is in fact more reflective of our government’s inability to provide all school leavers with an adequate and diverse range of career options.”

Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said: “Despite the MoD’s desperate attempts to make the armed forces as attractive to young people as it can, it is clear that the public, and in particular young people, do not believe the armed forces is the right environment for under-18s. It is now time for the UK Government to take note of this and bring its policy on recruitment of under-18s in line with the majority of countries around the world.”

Reem Abu-Hayyeh, a campaigner at the public health charity Medact, said: "The UK is one of fewer than 20 countries in the world to recruit 16-year-olds to the military, despite the majority of the UK population not supporting this practice.

“Research has pointed to the harmful health impacts of adolescent recruitment to the military. Those recruited under the age of 18 are more likely to face injury and even death, and face higher rates of self-harm, suicide and post-traumatic stress.

“The military is not the right environment for adolescent development and well-being, and the government should raise the age of recruitment to 18.”

More information about our UK campaign can be found here.

Contact: Chris Matthews at [email protected] / +44 207 324 4641