In the United Kingdom we are working for a rise in the minimum enlistment age from 16 to 18 years. Go to Soldiers at 16 to watch a veteran explain why this is important.

Case study

Keith was 15 when he joined the British army in 1989, using his older brother’s birth certificate, to escape from abuse in a care home. Deployed to Kuwait a year later and the Balkans in the late 1990s, Keith left the Army after 11 years. When he left the army after 11 years, he slept rough in London.

Kids need to be educated about consequences of signing up. They should be told in schools, ‘This is not fame and glory. You’re not going to have a great time. It might be an adventure, but it’s a costly adventure. You could be home in a box six weeks later.

The issue

One in four new British army recruits is aged 16 or 17. Recruits are not normally sent to war until they turn 18, but they are sought for frontline roles, particularly the infantry, which suffers more fatalities in warfare than any other part of the armed forces.

Adolescents in the British army have higher rates of mental health and behavioural problems than older recruits and receive lower standards of education than their civilian peers. They are more likely to be injured in training, and they can be made to stay in the army for up to two years longer than adult recruits.

A common assumption is that the army is a solution to antisocial behaviour in young people, but enlisting has been shown to increase the risk of violent offending. After recruits are deployed in war (aged 18+) the risk of violent offending increases again.

Recruiting from age 16 is a policy choice, not a necessity. Most states now only allow the enlistment of adults, from age 18, and we have shown that the UK could do the same and still staff its armed forces effectively.

Three-quarters of the public believe the army should raise the enlistment age to 18. All four Children’s Commissioners of the UK agree, as do child rights and welfare organisations, parliamentarians, church groups, the UN, and many veterans like Keith.

Get involved

Watch and share our two-minute campaign film and ten 3-minute films telling a veteran’s story.

Read this veteran’s article on why it’s time to raise the enlistment age to 18.

We are gathering support for the campaign all the time, including in Westminster, so now is a great time to get involved by writing to your MP.


    • You can find your MP and write to them here.
    • Write a short letter, calling on the Defence Secretary to raise the enlistment age to 18 and saying why you think it’s important.
    • Ask your MP to sign motion EDM 694  (if you’re writing to an MSP, ask them to sign Motion S5M-02538
    • If it’s helpful, you can use this two-page parliamentary briefing and send a copy or link with your letter.


After a campaign by Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch, in 2011 the UK government allowed child recruits a legal right of discharge, with some restrictions, until the age of 18. But as soon as a recruit reaches 18, he or she is still not allowed to leave for the following four years. Child Soldiers International challenged this in the High Court, but the judge ruled that the Ministry of Defence has the right to discriminate against younger recruits without any limit.

The good news is that the number of children enlisting annually has been falling and there is now widespread support for raising the minimum enlistment age to 18 years.

Find out more

Photo: Army recruiters at a county fair, UK © Carol Steel 2016