Written evidence from David Gee (InformedChoice.org.uk
The Informed Choice report, funded by the
Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, concluded that elements of Armed
Forces recruitment policy and practice put the rights of young
people at unwarranted risk. I hope the committee's inquiry will
raise such issues with the MoD and make recommendations accordingly.
1. In the context of a growing international
consensus that under-18s should not be recruited for military
purposes, the UK is increasingly isolated in continuing to do
so. This practice is also inconsistent with how the age of adult
responsibility is recognised in law. It is inconsistent that minors
are expected to accept the risks and legal obligations of enlistment
from age 16, while the laws deems them not yet sufficiently mature
to vote in a General Election, sign a legally binding contract,
join the civil emergency services or buy cigarettes.
2. The UK is the only state in the European Union,
Council of Europe and UN Permanent Five to recruit 16 year-olds
into the armed forces and one of only 20 such states worldwide.
Given that the UK fields Armed Forces of a similar size to most
European states, it ought to be possible to do so without recruiting
at this age.
3. The Joint Committee on Human Rights and the
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have called on the UK
to raise the minimum recruitment age. The MoD has never evidenced
its repeated claim that such a change would not be feasible.
4. It could be possible to phase out the recruitment
of under-18s while continuing to meet the trained strength requirement,
in a staged process; for example, the minimum recruitment age
could be raised in six-monthly increments over a fixed period
5. Recommendation: Recruitment of under-18s
is at odds with the legal age of responsibility and with international
norms. Under-18s should not be expected to enter a legally binding
agreement with such far-reaching obligations and risks as enlistment
in the Armed Forces. This applies a fortiori to 16 year-olds.
The MoD or an independent body should carry out a feasibility
study into sustainably phasing out the recruitment of under-18s
into the Armed Forces.
6. Once six months have passed after enlistment,
a soldier enlisted on his or her 16th birthday has
no legal right to leave the Army until his or her 22nd birthday.
Terms of service for the RAF and Naval Service differ but entail
similarly lengthy periods of service under legal obligation. By
forcing unhappy personnel to remain in the Armed Forces against
their will for a period of up to six years, the current terms
of service offend the natural rights of the person and risk undermining
7. Over-18s in the army must serve 3¾ years
once their period for Discharge as of Right has elapsed, whereas
under-18s must serve up to 5½ years, such that enlistment
imposes more onerous legal obligations on minors than it does
on adults. The MoD argues that this is necessary in order to assure
four years' deployable service from age 18, but the policy is
unfair and calls into question the department's own rationale
for recruiting under-18s.
8. The "unhappy minors" provision gives
Commanding Officers the discretion to discharge under-18s if they
so request and if the CO deems them to be "genuinely unhappy".
This provision is not published in recruitment materials for recruits
or their parents. The MoD argues that almost all requests are
granted, in which case it should be recognised in law as a right
of discharge. However, as of 1 December 2010, five under-18s were
detained in the Military Corrective Training Centre, Colchester
for Absence Without Leave.
A sentence of detention for AWOL is normally reserved for a serious
problem of prolonged or persistent absence, which strongly suggests
that these under-18s, and possibly many others, are not being
allowed to leave or are not aware that they can ask permission
to do so.
9. Recommendation: Under-18s should not be
without the legal right to leave the Armed Forces. Given the ambiguous
situation of dissatisfied under-18s in the Armed Forces, the MoD
should make the right of discharge for this age group a legal
right. Given that under-18s are currently in detention for AWOL,
the MoD should also evidence its claim that the "unhappy
minors" provision is currently an adequate safeguard for
under-18s who are dissatisfied.
10. Recommendation: The terms of service should
be clear, consistent, fair, and supported with a clear rationale;
they are currently opaque, inconsistent, unduly onerous and lack
a well-supported rationale. The MoD should harmonise and simplify
the terms of service across the Armed Forces. The legal obligations
of under-18 recruits should not be more onerous than those of
11. Parental/guardian consent is required for
under-18s to apply for, and later enlist in, the Armed Forces.
However, recruiting staff are not required to contact parents
by phone or in person to ensure that they and their child fully
understand the complex and far-reaching legal obligations of a
forces career. The army literature offered to parents is designed
to persuade them that their child will be happy in the forces,
rather than to brief them as fully as possible, alongside the
potential benefits, on the risks, difficulties of legal obligations
of enlistment. The application and enlistment consent forms are
normally signed at home, away from the recruitment office. A senior
recruiter told me in 2007 that most army recruits' parents never
meet face-to-face with recruiters before their child enlists.
12. Recommendation: While recruitment of under-18s continues,
potential recruits' parents/guardians should be as fully aware
as possible of the commitment their child is making and of its
potential consequences. The MoD should require recruiters for
all branches of the Armed Forces to attempt to make personal contact
with parents or legal guardians of applicants under 18 years of
age; records of successful contact should be kept, with targets
54 Information obtained under the Freedom of Information
Act, Ministry of Defence, 31 January 2011. Back
Senior recruiter, personal communication, 2007. Back