Written evidence submitted by Child Soldiers International on UK Armed Forces Bill

Child Soldiers International is concerned that the Bill does not meet recommendations made repeatedly to the government by expert national and international committees to raise the minimum age for military recruitment to at least 18 years, and to take other measures in the interim to support the best interests of the youngest recruits.

This memorandum presents evidence to show that the recruitment of minors by the British armed forces is:

  • Contrary to global good practice and prejudicial to international efforts aimed at ending the use of children for military purposes worldwide;
  • Inequitable, in assigning disproportionate numbers of the youngest recruits to the armed forces’ most dangerous roles, and imposing terms of service in the army that are more onerous for minors than for adult recruits; and
  • Highly costly and not necessary to meet the trained strength requirement.

Evidence is also presented showing that the policy of recruiting from age 16 is detrimental to the best interests of young people, which is due in particular to:

  • The early exit from education that enlistment from age 16 requires;
  • The substantial risks that military service introduces to young people from typically adverse childhood backgrounds; and
  • The high drop-out rate among trainees who enlist as minors, which leaves these young discharged soldiers vulnerable to unemployment and social exclusion.

Child Soldiers International recommends that the Ministry of Defence phase out the
recruitment of minors and strengthen safeguards for the welfare of young recruits in the interim. As an immediate measure, we recommend that the minimum period of service required of those who enlist as minors should not be more onerous than that required of adult recruits.

We ask the Select Committee to examine:

  • The policy of recruiting from age 16;
  • The army’s terms of service, which obligate recruits enlisting as minors to serve for longer than adult recruits before becoming eligible to leave the regular army and join the reserves; and
  • The armed forces’ safeguards for the youngest recruits, such as minimum reading age at enlistment and the requirement to obtain fully informed consent – such measures are weakly framed in policy and frequently circumvented in practice.

Download this evidence here.