Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Peace Pledge Union


  1.  There is a major derogation from basic principles of human rights in UK practice regarding recruitment of persons under 18 to the armed forces.

  2.  Persons may enter the armed forces from the age of 16, but are required

to undertake long-term commitments stretching into their adulthood. Entrants to the Royal Navy are obliged to enter a minimum engagement of approximately four years, and entrants to the Royal Air Force are required to enter a minimum engagement of approximately three and a half years. Although written consent is required from parents or guardians of under-18 entrants, it is to be questioned whether it is permissible in human rights terms for minors to enter into a binding contract so far into the future.

  3.  Under-I8 entrants to the Army, who account for far more than half of all armed forces entrants, are actually required to commit themselves to a longer minimum period than adult entrants. The minimum period in both cases is stated to be 4 years from date of entry, but there is a proviso in the case of under-18s that the period from date of entry to the 18th birthday does not count towards that minimum period, but must be served in addition, meaning that a person joining on the 16th birthday is actually required to serve a minimum of six-years. often called "the six-year trap".

  3.  There is a window of opportunity allowed from the 28th day after entry to the end of the sixth month for an absolute right for under-18 entrants to leave any of the three armed forces, but, as that opportunity largely coincides with basic training, when conditions are less arduous, it does not adequately provide an answer to the young entrants who change their minds at a later stage.

  4.  There is no other occupation in which a young entrant of just 16 is required to make a binding undertaking up to the age of 22; there is also no other occupation in which simply walking off the job renders one liable to arrest by a civilian police officer and eventually being brought before a court with power to impose imprisonment, for what, at most, in civilian life would be a civil action for breach of contract.

  5.  So far back as 1991 the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill of that year expressed dissatisfaction with the conditions of enlistment for under-18s and recommended the MoD to bring forward proposals for change. The RN and RAF changed their previous respective 6- and 5-year traps to the present position, but the Army increased their previous 5-year trap to the present 6-year trap

  6.  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child commented in its 2002 Report, "The Committee is deeply concerned … that those recruited are required to serve for a minimum period of four years rising to six years in the case of very young recruits". In 2008 the concern continued.

February 2009

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