Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the UK Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

  The UK recently submitted its report under the Convention and the Optional Protocol to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee sent the UK a "List of Issues" to which it asked the UK to respond. The UK sent a reply and was subsequently questioned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva on 24 September 2008. The Concluding Observations were then issued by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on 3 October 2008 (CRCIC/OPACICO/GBRlI).

  These Concluding Observations include specific recommendations that the UK could undertake to improve compliance with the OPAC. The JCHR itself has made recommendations in the past concerning under age recruitment into the armed forces, and many of these concerns are also found in the Concluding Observations. The following information may assist JCHR in considering three of the most important recommendations found in the Concluding Observations.

  Recommendation in paragraph 11 of the Concluding Observations: The UK's "interpretive declaration" leaves open the possibility that UK children are exposed to the risk of taking direct part in hostilities. No other State party to the OPAC has made an interpretive declaration which allows this risk to remain. OPAC exists to protect all under-18s from involvement in armed conflict, even in the circumstances envisaged in the UK's interpretive declaration.

  Recommendation in paragraph 13: increasing the minimum recruitment age to 18. No other EU state recruits at 16, very few at 17. It does not seem that there has ever been a full feasibility study by the MoD on sustainably phasing out the recruitment of under-18s, therefore there is no evidence that this would be detrimental to staffing levels.

  Recommendation in paragraph 19: the UN Committee welcomes the lifting (on 1 January 2008) of the rule which requires under-I 8 year old recruits to serve for a minimum period of up to two years longer than that for adult recruits (paragraph 18). The UK delegation did not correct the UN Committee on this point, that rule having been re-instated from 6 August 2008 (Army Terms of Service (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2008). The recommendation in paragraph 19, therefore, is based on incorrect information. The MoD has since admitted that the lifting was a mistake, but did not inform the UN committee. The UN committee's recommendation in paragraph 19 would have been stronger if this had been so, and would no doubt apply to all under-18 year olds in the army. The Royal Navy (since 2000) and RAF (since 2001) do not have longer initial service periods for under-18s. The army may believe that forcible retention under law is the only way to ensure operationally productive time after training. This ignores the fact that not all deployments are banned under OPAC. Raising recruitment to 18 would avoid this perception of uneconomic return, and no discrepancy in the terms of service would be necessary.

November 2008

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