The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to ensure that:
- Guidance is provided on how visits to schools by the armed forces should be conducted so that information presented to children takes account of the unique nature of armed forces careers, ensures political balance, and offers a realistic representation of the role of the armed forces and what a career in the armed forces involves.
- Information is collected to enable public monitoring of the number and location of visits, the purpose and content of visits, and comparison with the number of visits by other employers.
- Parents/guardians are consulted as to whether they are happy for their child to take part in armed forces activities at school.
Why is the petition asking for this?
- This is about child rights and welfare. It is in the best interests of children for them to be provided with full and balanced information relating to a choice that may have serious consequences for their health, wellbeing and social mobility.
- Military engagement with children in the education system should be publicly scrutinized to ensure that children are not being placed under undue pressure or inappropriate influence.
- Children should have the right to be able to object on grounds of conscience to compulsory armed forces activities, as adults can.
- Evidence shows that a balance of views and information is very often lacking in armed forces visits to schools, which have a recruitment agenda according to MoD documents.
- There is evidence that equal access is not given to other career providers.
- Data on the number of armed forces visits to schools in Scotland is currently only available through freedom of information requests or parliamentary questions and there are inconsistencies in format, quality and across datasets.
- Local authorities have very different arrangements regarding consultation and not all are agreed that parents and pupils should be able to opt out of armed forces activities. We believe that children rights and welfare is not mutable depending on which local authority they live in.
What the petition doesn’t ask for…
- A ban on armed forces visits to schools.
- Children to be prevented from going into armed forces recruitment offices.
- A rise in the recruitment age.
- The armed forces to be prevented from being discussed in classrooms.
- Anything to do with cadet forces.
But 16 and 17 year olds are adults aren’t they, so what’s the problem?
- Legally, 16 and 17 year olds are children. This is not only the case in Scotland; international bodies such as the UN consider those under the age of 18 to be children. The armed forces do not just visit children who are recruitment age (we have evidence of them sending career advisors to primary schools).
- While 16 and 17 year olds can vote in Scotland, maturation is a process, not something that happens on your birthday. Recent research shows that our brains do not reach maturity until our 20s, and before then we are more vulnerable to marketing and less likely to be able to assess risk. Since the adolescent brain is still maturing and adolescents are more vulnerable to making long-term decisions involving risk without fully processing the information, it is important that balanced and full information is provided, -particularly given this context, in which adolescents may be encouraged to sign up to a job with unique contractual obligations, physical and mental risks and moral complexities.
- You cannot be deployed until you turn 18. However, research shows that across their military career, those recruited as children are more vulnerable than those recruited as adults, to long-term health problems including harmful drinking, depression and PTSD. It is therefore extremely important that children who may be considering signing up understand the risks that they are facing.
But they’re mainly going into schools to do sports and things?
- The MoD themselves have stated that they believe all contact in schools is part of their recruitment drive. There is much evidence of the recruitment agenda behind schools visits in MoD and Defence Committee documents.
But they offer an opportunity and a chance to young people?
- A large proportion of early enlistees decide to drop out of training (one-third). Their options are then either re-joining the education system or finding alternative employment without having acquired basic qualifications.
- Early enlistees who do complete their training are less likely than adult recruits to be promoted through the ranks. When they leave the army they will compete for jobs with their civilian peers who remained in full-time education post-16.
- Research by the British Legion has found that the unemployment rate among working-age veterans is approximately twice the civilian rate; a lack of transferable, accredited qualifications acquired in service is a common complaint.
- The Army’s provision of education for children is based upon ‘Functional Skills’ qualifications which are one of the lowest educational qualifications offered in the UK; and their ‘Public Services’ apprenticeship, despite its name, largely consists of basic infantry training and is not designed for use outside the army.
- There are many other opportunities available for young people, yet no other public service or business employer visits schools to the same extent as the armed forces and a recent study A recent study suggests information about apprenticeships is not distributed well enough in schools in Scotland.
It’s not all that dangerous though is it?
- The armed forces recruit children to fill gaps in adult recruitment, specifically in the infantry. The infantry is the most dangerous part of the forces - infantry personal were seven times more likely to die in Afghanistan.
- Child recruits are more vulnerable to alcohol abuse, PTSD, poor mental health and a host of other problems across the course of their military career, when compared to adult recruits.
- Evidence shows that the dangers involved in an armed forces career are often not discussed in school visits, and a sanitised, glamourised version, focused on adventure and fun, is promoted.
How can I find out more, what can I do?
- There are links to more information at the bottom of this page, which will help you explore your questions more fully. Alternatively you can contact Forces Watch or Quakers in Scotland (see contact details below).
- The Public Petitions Committee has said that it will take written unsolicited submissions on the petition. This would be extremely helpful. Please write to the committee at email@example.com. Their deadline for receiving responses is JANUARY 13th 2017.
Petition and background information http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/petitionPDF/PE01603.pdf
A summary of concerns behind the petition to the Scottish Parliament and next steps – December 2016.
Further background reading:
Medact Report linking serious health concerns with under age recruitment http://www.medact.org/2016/news/recruitment-children-uk-armed-forces-critique-health-professionals/
Forces Watch: firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7837 2822.
Quakers in Scotland, Parliamentary Engagement Officer: Mairi Campbell-Jack, email@example.com