Memorandum submitted by the Religious
Society of Friends (Quakers)
1. The United Kingdom is unique among Nations
of the European Union in recruiting young people into the armed
forces at the age of 16.
2. In April 2008 there were 4,650 under 18-year-olds
serving in the armed forces.
While those under 18 currently constitute about 1% of the trained
strength of the armed forces, those recruited under the age of
18 amount to over a quarter of the army`s fighting strength. 28%
of all recruits in 2007-08 were aged under 18. Recruitment into
the armed forces involves significant risks to the mental and
physical well-being of adolescents. During the period between
1 January 1994 and 31 December 2003, 28 regular armed forces personnel
under the age of 18 died while in service. During 2007 two under
18 year olds died while on training. [PQ reference number PQ 04703U].
3. On enlistment into the armed Forces young
people become subject to military law. Leaving the armed forces
without permission amounts not only to a breach of contract but
may be a criminal offence for which young people may be tried
under courts martial.
4. Under the Army Terms of Service (Amendments
etc ) Regulations 2008 which came into force on 6 August 2008
young people are required to serve for a minimum of four years
from their 18th birthday. In the UN Committee on the Rights of
the Child consideration of the UK report under the optional protocol
to the UN Convention on the Rights of the child on the involvement
of children in armed conflict in Geneva (24 September 2008), the
Committee 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. The introduction of the
above rule is potentially discriminatory in requiring under 18-year-olds
to enter into more onerous terms and conditions than recruits
who are over the age of 18. While those over 18 commit themselves
for a period of four years those recruited at 16 commit themselves
for a period of six.
5. After an initial period of six months
during which young soldiers may choose to leave the armed forces
voluntarily, there is no provision for discharge as of right.
There are provisions for minors who are clearly unhappy at their
choice of career to make a request to leave the army but this
is always at the discretion of the commanding officer. The fact
that there is a legal obligation to remain in the armed forces
makes young and vulnerable recruits potentially more open to bullying.
Those who are deeply unhappy may be unwilling or unable to make
a request to leave for fear that if refused they may be subject
to worse bullying than before. A wider "discharge as of right"
would provide a safety valve and would make it easier to raise
the issue of bullying in the knowledge that a young person could
not be required to remain in a situation against his or her will.
6. 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 overly broad and could amount
to putting under 18-year-old soldiers in situations of danger.
Such a declaration potentially frustrates the intention of the
7. Under the Convention on the Rights of
the Child the UK Government is required to pay attention to the
best interests of the child. 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. The best interests of
the child would require that the period prior to their 18th birthday
be considered educational in the fullest sense of the word. It
is important from the point of view of their development that
young people can make provisional decisions and to be able to
learn from their mistakes. In any other area a young person making
a career choice at the age of 16 would not expect to be held to
that decision. As long as enlistment takes place at the age of
16 young people should be afforded 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.
8. Under the ILO Convention there is a general
prohibition on "work which, by the nature of the circumstances
in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety
or morals of children." Military deployment to a conflict
zone could amount to a breach of the ILO Convention even in the
case of voluntary recruits as in the United Kingdom.
9. The current regime in the army is unlike
any apprenticeship context in that in that breaches of army discipline
may lead to criminal sanctions. Those joining the army at 16,
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.
10. It would be entirely feasible to raise
the age of enlistment into the armed forces to 18, while still
permitting minors to train while retaining their civilian status.
As a first step, the age of enlistment into the armed forces could
be raised to 17. As yet the Ministry of Defence has resisted calls
to undertake a feasibility study or cost analysis of raising the
age of recruitment. While such a change in practice might require
greater attention to be given to the retention of qualified soldiers
through the development of more rewarding career paths, it would
enable the United Kingdom to conform to the spirit of the Optional
Protocol. I hope that the Joint Committee on Human Rights will
consider this situation in detail and make recommendations that
the Armed Forces do not enlist those under the age of 18.
447 www.dasa.mod.uk referred to in answer to Neil Gerarrd
PQ of 27 October 2008 (229409). Back
Neil Gerrard PQ of 27 October 2008 (229408). Back