Children and young people's rights groups have called for a change in the law to end the recruitment of 16 and 17-year-olds into the UK armed forces. No other country in NATO, the EU or the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council recruits 16-year-olds.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England are calling for the Armed Forces Bill to be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18. Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association have also given their backing to the call.
The second reading of the bill took place in the House of Commons earlier this week, but in a five-hour debate not a single MP deemed this issue worthy of comment. Indeed, one MP, Mark Menzies (Conservative, Fylde), stressed the importance “of getting the Army into schools and of engaging with young people at a young age”. He added “It would be a great shame if, as a result of union activity or the activity of other people who have an axe to grind, we stopped allowing our armed forces into our schools to engage with young people”.
With seemingly little support within parliament for reform, the Defence Secretary Liam Fox and the Ministry of Defence are resisting the outside pressure to raise the age of recruitment to 18.
The UK is one of a diminishing number of countries that still recruit under-18s into the armed forces, and one of fewer than 20 countries which recruit from the age of 16. Other countries recruiting from this age include Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe. The bill will next be considered by a select committee and then subject to a third hearing in parliament later this year.