Britain is the only state in Europe or Nato that still enlists minors, a policy criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the parliamentary joint committee on human rights and other groups including Child Soldiers International and British Quakers. The organisation Veterans For Peace (VFP) is demanding change, but the MoD says it depends on 16-year-olds for a quarter of the intake needed to sustain UK forces.
After a six-month trial, 16-year-olds are locked in to the forces until they reach 22, meaning a life-changing decision is made at a brutally young age, says VFP co-ordinator Ben Griffin, 37, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan in the SAS and the Parachute Regiment. He said his experiences gave him an “obligation” to tell teenagers the truth.
There is provision for “unhappy juniors” to be discharged at the discretion of their commanding officer but no guarantee it will happen.
“There’s no clear, uniformed enemy any more,” he said. “Basically,in war, you’re fighting a civilian population: you’re breaking down doors in the middle of the night.