Written evidence from the General Assembly
of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
1. I am writing on behalf of the General Assembly
of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches to express our concerns
regarding the recruitment into the Armed Forces of under 18 year
olds. The General Assembly has a long-standing commitment to peace
and disarmament along with a recognition of the rights of children
and young people. We consider that the current position regarding
the recruitment of 16 year olds into the armed forces should be
2. We wish in particular to draw the attention
of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces to the following:
3. Eighteen is currently the legal age of adult
responsibility in the UK, yet the UK continues to recruit into
the armed forces at 16. Britain is currently the only country
in Europe to recruit 16 year olds into its regular armed forces.
The UK Government has been active in pressing for an end to the
recruitment and deployment of child soldiers abroad, particularly
in conflict zones such as the Congo. While the UK uses an entirely
professional army and does not deploy prior the age of 18, present
recruitment practice nevertheless makes it harder to argue with
consistency against the iniquity of the use of "child soldiers".
4. After an initial period of six months, UK
16 to 18 year old recruits "have no discharge as of right".
After this period, they may only leave at the discretion of their
commanding officer. These arrangements do not adequately ensure
that all minors serving in the armed forces are doing so after
a mature consideration that one of the armed forces is the right
career for them and that the decision is made with an informed
5. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
requires the UK government to have regard to the best interests
of the Child but there is no independent oversight of the army
in this regard. For the purposes of the Convention, any one under
the age of 18 is considered as a child. If young people are to
develop into mature and responsible adults it is vital that young
people are able to make provisional decisions and to be able to
learn from their mistakes. As long as enlistment takes place at
the age of 16, young people should be given the opportunity of
reconsidering a provisional decision to join the army and be allowed
discharge as of right at all times up until their 18th birthday.
6. Article 2 of ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour
provides that each member of the International Labour Organisation
which ratifies this Convention undertakes effective measures to
secure the immediate and complete abolition of forced or compulsory
labour. Where a young person is prevented from leaving the career
army in peacetime, restricting the right to withdraw from a statutory
obligation to work undermines a free employment relationship.
This is particularly serious where 16-year old recruits may not
have fully understood the nature or extent of their obligations
on recruitment. Failure of recruiting officers to ensure informed
consent could amount to young soldiers being indentured for an
extended period of service against their will.
For these reasons and in this context we would ask
the committee to amend the bill to provide as follows:
- (i) that the age of enlistment should be
raised to 18.
- (ii) that provision should be made for the
unqualified and unrestricted right of discharge for all recruits
under the age of 18; and
- (iii) for there to be a requirement that
those who have enlisted under the age of 18 are required to consent
in writing that they wish to renew their enlistment at the age
of 18, or to exercise their right to resign.
7 February 2011