The Armed Forces Bill

AFB 05

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 eighteen year olds. [1] 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 sixteen. Britain is now the only country in Europe to recruit sixteen year olds into its regular armed forces. In 2009/2010, over a quarter of infantry recruits were under the age of 18. [2] 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 armed forces. [3] The UK Government has been active in addressing the issue of the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers abroad. [4] 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 soldiers’ abroad.

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 commanding officer. [5] 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. [6] 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 5 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.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

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 eighteenth 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 the Rights of the Child

7. Under the Army Terms of Service (Amendments etc) Regulations 2008 [7] , 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.

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

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." [8] The UK Government has so far failed to implement the recommendations of Parliament`s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child

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- eighteens 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 Forced Labour

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.

European Union Law

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 implementing them.


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 eighteen.

Failing that:

ii) that provision should be made for the unqualified and unrestricted right of discharge for all recruits under the age of eighteen 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

[1] See also Evidence 402 to Defence Committee, Duty of Care, 3 rd Report of Session 2004 – 2005 and Evidence 153 to Joint Committee on Human Rights, Children’s Rights, 25 th Report of Session 2008- 2009. 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 2005.

[2] See in the year 2009/2010 4,675 under 18s were recruited into the armed forces.

[3] Http://

[4] See for instance work of DFID in northern Uganda and Nepal in relation to former child soldiers.

[5] 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.

[6] Evidence 255 to Defence Committee, Duty of Care Enquiry, HC 63-II

[7] Entry into force 6 August 2008

[8] Paragraph 143 Children`s Rights, HL Paper 157/ HC 318