Memorandum submitted by The UK Coalition
to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
I write on behalf of the undermentioned member
organisation of the UK Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
to draw particular attention to several concerns we have about
the recruitment and deployment of persons under the age of 18
in the UK Armed Forces. We enclose a memorandum setting out the
reasons why we believe that the present "Armed Forces Bill"
should incorporate provisions for a minimum age of 18 for both
military recruitment and military deployment.
In the past Britain has made a notable contribution
to the abolition of such social abuses as slavery but the recent
record of Britain in relation to young persons and military activity
has made the country increasingly isolated. Indeed, the work of
many of our organisations in promoting the welfare of children
and young people in areas scarred by war and conflict is actually
undermined by the example of a leading country insisting upon
flouting the increasing world consensus that persons under 18
have no business in war, either as victims or participants.
We commend the memorandum for your most serious
consideration and action.
Defence for Children International
Quaker United Nations OfficeGeneva
The International Federation Terre des Hommes
World Vision International
1. It appears an anomaly that while there
are a number of provisions laying down minimum ages for a variety
of activities ranging from part-time delivery of newspapers to
exercise of the franchise, there is no minimum age laid down,
either in common or statute law for recruitment of members of
the Armed Forces, who have the awesome responsibilities and liabilities
of taking and losing life.
2. Under the 1980 Convention of the Rights
of the Child (CRC) the UK has shared in a commitment to a minimum
age of 15 for military recruitment. But it needs to be remembered
that the UK was one of the more intransigent states which blocked
moves to write into the Convention a universal commitment to a
minimum age of 18the generally recognised age of majority
and recognised by the Convention as the age separating childhood
3. At that time the UK was still recruiting
below the age of 16, in those cases where a pupil could legally
leave school a month or two before that birthday. Although the
UK now recruits only from the 16th birthday, that is simply by
virtue of an internal house rule of the MoD, and there is nothing
in law to prevent an arbitrary return to the former practice,
or indeed recruiting at an even earlier age should the school
leaving age be lowered, as is occasionally urged in some quarters
in response to the problem of disruptive pupils.
4. Since the 1989 CRC there has been increasing
concern that the international norm for the minimum age for military
recruiting should be raised, and in May 2000, after further intransigence
by the UK, the UN General Assembly adopted an Optional Protocol
to the CRC requiring state parties to raise their minimum age
beyond 15 and to deposit upon ratification a binding declaration
of the selected age.
5. The present "Armed Forces Bill"
therefore sees the appropriate occasion on which to incorporate
a minimum military recruiting age into British law, and we most
strongly urge that the age be 18, as is being increasingly widely
accepted throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
6. An additional reason for selecting the
age of 18 is to remove once and for all the anomaly whereby contrary
to the whole spirit of the CRC and the Optional Protocol, the
younger the recruit is, the longer the minimum period required
to be served. This arises from the provision in the Armed Forces
Recruitment Procedure that service under the age of 18 does not
count towards the minimum period of engagement undertaken. Thus
in a nominal four year period of engagement, in the case of a
recruit on or soon after her/his 16th birthday becomes in actuality
six years, while a recruit attesting on her/his 18th birthday
"signs on for only four years".
7. We note, moreover, that in line with
comments made by previous "Armed Forces Bill" select
committees, the 1996 committee reported that
We see little reason why those who sign up before
they are 18 should be required automatically to serve until they
are 21. The same three year terms that apply to adults could equally
be applied to under 18 year olds . . .
(Introduction paragraph 42)
The committee went on to make a formal recommendation
to that effect. So far from implementing such a recommendation
the MoD unilaterally, without reference to either Parliament or
a select committee, announced (in November 1999) an extension
of the minimum period of adult service from three years to four
years, with a consequent extension of the "five year trap"
for under 18 year olds, to a "six year trap".
8. This arbitrary action is in content not
only of public opinion as expressed through parliamentary procedures,
but also in content of international opinion as expressed through
the CRC and debates around the Optional Protocol. It is therefore
all the more imperative that this "Armed Forces Bill"
should incorporate a minimum recruiting age, and other relevant
conditions, which could only be amended by another Bill.
9. The Optional Protocol also requires state
parties to "take all feasible steps" to ensure that
under 18 members of their armed forces do not take a "direct
part in hostilities". The recent UK position has been that
there are "guidelines" on minimum ages for deployment
in potentially hostile areas, varying between the three forces:
17 for the Navy (instituted as recently as 1998); 17 years three
months for the Army and 17 years six months for the RAF. No rationale
is given for these distinctions, nor for the overriding distinction
in the case of Northern Ireland where the minimum age for street
patrols is 18. Again, the MoD has undertaken to abide by the UN
directive that participants in the UN peacekeeping operations
should be at least 18 but has ignored the rider "and preferably
Because NATO has no such rule, 17 year olds
are regularly sent to Bosnia and Kosovo. As to overt hostilities,
two 17 year olds were killed in the Falklands War and two more
in the Gulf War.
10. With regard to the Optional Protocol,
the United Kingdom Government deposited in September 2000 a declaration
which seems to shift the "guideline" for a minimum deployment
for all three services to 18, but reserves the right to depart,
as it already does from its own guidelines for "military
need", "urgency" and "operational effectiveness".
This clearly contradicts the whole purpose of the Optional Protocol
to preserve the interests and safety of young people against political,
military or economic repression.
11. We therefore urge that in addition to
writing into the Bill a minimum age of 18 for military recruitment
there also be written in a minimum age of 18 for military deployment.