Written evidence from the Religious Society
of Friends (Quakers)|
This memorandum summarises a long held concern of
the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) regarding the recruitment
into the Armed Forces of under 18 year olds.
We wish in particular to draw the attention of the Select Committee
on the Armed Forces to the following:
1. 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 now the only country in Europe
to recruit 16 year olds into its regular armed forces. In 2009-10,
over a quarter of infantry recruits were under the age of 18.
The MoD is currently proposing publishing these statistics in
a form that would no longer disaggregate 16 to 18 year old recruits,
as a distinct legal category from those between 18 and 19. If
these proposals are accepted it will become harder to have an
informed public debate about the recruitment of minors into the
The UK Government has been active in addressing the issue of the
recruitment and deployment of child soldiers abroad.
While the UK uses an entirely professional army and does not deploy
prior the age of 18, present recruitment practice makes it harder
to argue with consistency against the iniquity of the use of "child
2. 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
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 adult conscience.
3. Contracts are not ordinarily enforceable against
minors, and yet in the case of 16 to 18 year old recruits, what
is in essence a quasi-contract gives rise to a statutory obligation
to work. Those who go absent without leave or otherwise breach
military discipline, may be compulsorily detained.
4. Those joining the army under the age of 18,
often from the poorest backgrounds, do not have the same right
to change their course or career as young people learning other
trades or professions. On average army recruits have less than
one GCSE at Grade A to C. Fifty per cent come from a deprived
background. About half have skills in reading or writing at or
below the level of an 11 year old.
This requires particular vigilance in ensuring that there is informed
consent for recruitment.
5. The Army Foundation College in Harrogate,
North Yorkshire trains young people between 16 years and 17 years
and five months, to become Junior Soldiers for the Infantry, Royal
Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery and Royal Logistic Corps. This
training regime is sometimes compared to apprenticeships, yet
the army is unlike other modern apprenticeship in the nature of
the obligations that are undertaken; the dangers that are faced;
and in that in that breaches of army discipline may result in
criminal sanctions. The cost of the training provided is sometimes
presented as a reason for requiring soldiers to serve beyond this
period. Yet the UK offers voluntary free education to all 16-18
year olds. By enlisting in the Army the under 16-year old is subject
to a more restricted curriculum than in a civilian sixth form
college or college of further education. A recruit has more limited
options of changing courses.
6. 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. Present regulations regarding
recruitment appear to subordinate the interests of the child to
military effectiveness. Consideration of the best interests of
the child would require that the entire period prior to their
18th birthday be considered educational in the broadest sense
of the word. If young people are to develop into mature and responsible
adults it is vital that they are able to make provisional decisions
and to be able to learn from their mistakes.
UN COMMITTEE ON
7. Under the Army Terms of Service (Amendments
etc) Regulations 2008,
young people are required to serve for a minimum of four years
from their 18th birthday. Yet, in September 2008 a UN committee
of experts (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child) when considering
the report of the UK Government, under the optional protocol to
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement
of children in armed conflict, (Geneva, 24 September 2008), welcomed
the lifting of the rule requiring young people to serve for a
minimum period of four years beyond their 18th birthday (paragraph
18). In fact, at the time of this consideration, the rule had
already been re-introduced. Nearly three years later this rule
remains in place.
8. The Joint Committee on Human Rights in its
Report into Children's Rights noted the comments of the UN Committee
on the Rights of the Child (above) and the UN committee' extensive
set of recommendations on compliance with the Optional Protocol.
It recommended "that the UK adopt a plan of action for fully
implementing the Optional Protocol, including these recommendations,
in the UK, together with a clear timetable for doing so".
The UK Government has so far failed to implement the recommendations
of Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights.
9. On signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention
on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed
conflict (OPAC), the UK entered an interpretive declaration that
deployment of young people would not be precluded where, "the
exclusion of children before deployment is not practicable or
would undermine the operational effectiveness of the operation"
The UK retained the right to send under- 18s into conflict where
"there is genuine military need" or if it is "not
practicable to withdraw such persons before deployment".
This interpretive declaration is so broad as to frustrate the
intention of the Convention.
ILO CONVENTION ON
10. Article 2 of ILO Forced Labour Convention
1930 (C29) 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. In the case or current regulations the statutory
obligation to work resulting from a quasi- contract, after the
right to give notice during the first six months, undermines a
free-employment relationship and is therefore incompatible with
the Convention. This is particularly serious where there may be
doubts about the quality and genuineness of consent of 16-year
old recruits who 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.
11. Council Directive 94/33, in relation to the
health and safety of young people at work aged under 18 years
was implemented by means of Health and Safety (Young Persons)
Regulations 1997. The Directive specifies that young people
under the age of 18 should be protected "from any specific
risks to their safety ... which are a consequence of their lack
of experience". It is crucial that all ranks responsible
for supervising a safe system of work are not only made fully
aware of these requirements but of their responsibilities for
12. 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.
And in any case:
- (iv) that information held on the recruitment
into the army should be collected, recorded and published in a
form that makes clear how many under-18 year olds are (a) recruited
and (b) retained each year.
7 February 2011
46 See also Evidence 402 to Defence Committee, Duty
of Care, 3rd Report of Session 2004-05 and Evidence 153 to Joint
Committee on Human Rights, Children's Rights, 25th Report of Session
2008-09. HL Paper 157 HC 318. Child Soldiers: Children
Deprived of Parental Care, /Submission by Friends World Committee
of Consultation to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Day
of General Discussion of Children Deprived of Parental Care, July
See www.dasa.mod.uk in the year 2009-10 4,675 under 18s were recruited
into the armed forces. Back
See for instance work of DFID in northern Uganda and Nepal in
relation to former child soldiers. Back
Army Terms of Service Regulations 2007 provides in Section 9 2)
If the recruit had not attained the age of 18 years at the date
of his enlistment, the notice referred to in paragraph (1) shall
not have effect unless it is given after the recruit has completed
28 days' service and before the expiration of the period of 6
months beginning on the date of his enlistment. Back
Evidence 255 to Defence Committee, Duty of Care Enquiry, HC 63-II Back
Entry into force 6 August 2008 Back
Paragraph 143 Children`s Rights, HL Paper 157/ HC 318 Back