Declares that the Petitioners welcome proposals to raise the school leaving age to 18; and further declares their regret that young people joining the armed forces at the age of 16 currently commit themselves to a period of four years service beyond their 18th birthday:
The minimum age of entry into the UK armed forces is the school leaving age of 16 years; recruitment is totally voluntary. The services provide challenging and constructive education, training and employment to many young people and provide them with valuable transferable skills.
The armed forces offer young people a wide variety of interesting and rewarding careers. They also provide an excellent opportunity to benefit from constructive, nationally recognised training and education regardless of their level of ability on entry.
No young person, under the age of 18 years, may join the UK armed forces unless their application is accompanied by the formal written consent of his or her parents or guardian. Throughout the recruit selection process, the staffs at the armed forces careers offices (AFCO) provide comprehensive written and oral guidance to all potential recruits, in particular those of less than 18 years of age, and their parents or guardians. This guidance covers the potential recruits terms and conditions of service, the commitments that they would be undertaking, and their rights to discharge.
All new recruits, regardless of age, have a right of discharge within the first six months of service by giving not less than 14 days notice in writing to the Commanding Officer if they decide that the armed forces is not a career for them. In addition, service personnel under 18 years three months who have passed their statutory six month period for discharge as of right and before reaching their 18th birthday have registered clear unhappiness at their choice of career, can request permission to leave the armed forces. Such individuals who have registered clear unhappiness are allowed to leave; they are not prevented from doing so. However, there may be circumstances when a final decision may be deferred, for example if the Commanding Officer has doubts about the permanence of the individuals unhappiness. Every effort is made to ensure that they have fully considered their decision.
It is Defence policy that service personnel under the age of 18 are not deployed on any operation, outside of the UK, which would result in them becoming engaged in, or exposed to, hostilities. In addition, in line with UN policy, service personnel under 18 are not deployed on UN peacekeeping operations.
Our policy on the care of under-18s was revised and reissued in the form of a guidance note to commanding officers in light of the Deepcut review. The guidance note has been updated recently to take account of changes in legislation regarding the sale of tobacco products to under-18s and the appointment of the Service Complaints Commissioner.
The UK ratified the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in June 2003. It requires all feasible measures to be taken to ensure that members of the armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take part in hostilities.
We believe that our policies on under-18s are robust and compliant with national and international law. We remain firmly committed to meeting our obligations under the protocol, and have taken steps to bestow special safeguards on young people under the age of 18. Naturally, we will keep them under review.