Children have no place in the British army

Mark Bostridge writes: Britain is the only country in Europe to recruit 16-year-olds into its armed forces. The cynical targeting of underprivileged youngsters must end

On the evening of 22 December 1915, a young British subaltern called Roland Leighton was mortally wounded as he went out ahead of his platoon to inspect the barbed wire in front of trenches at Hébuterne on the Western Front.

It was a moonlit night, with Germans only 100 yards away, and Leighton had no sooner reached the gap in the hedge on the concealed path leading to No Man’s Land than he was shot in the stomach by a sniper. He was given a huge dose of morphine and taken to the village of Louvencourt, 10 miles away, where he was operated on the next morning. His chances of survival were slim, and at 11pm he died peacefully. He was 20 years old.

A century on, Leighton is still remembered as the glittering public-school hero of Testament of Youth, the memoir written by the woman he might have married had he survived the war, Vera Brittain. In the book’s recent feature film adaptation, Leighton was portrayed by Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame.… Read more

Army urged to stop using armed teenagers to guard barracks

ForcesWatch report calls on UK military to stop recruiting minors altogether, as armed forces bill due for third reading

Britain’s military should stop using armed under-18s to guard soldiers’ barracks, a report into Ministry of Defence recruitment practices is set to say.

The release of the report later on Wednesday by the pressure group ForcesWatch, timed to coincide with the third reading of the armed forces bill in the House of Commons, calls on the UK to stop recruiting juveniles to the military altogether.

Britain is the only country in Europe, Nato and the UN permanent security council to recruit adolescents and is one of around 20 countries globally, including Iran and North Korea, that use under-18s in the military.

A group of Plaid Cymru and Green MPs have tabled a parliamentary amendment to the armed forces bill to raise the recruitment age to 18 but it is not expected to attract wide enough support to pass into law.

The MoD has not been able to deploy minors into combat since 2003, although a ministerial letter from earlier this year stated that seven 17-year-olds were mistakenly sent to war zones between 2007 and 2010 as part of active operations; four to Iraq and three to Afghanistan.… Read more

New report shows that important duty of care recommendations have not been implemented by the armed forces

ForcesWatch calls for age of recruitment to rise to eighteen

Ahead of the House of Commons debate on the Armed Forces Bill on Wednesday 16 December, ForcesWatch has published a new report calling for a change in the law ending military recruitment under 18 years of age.

This report, highlights seven recommendations from the Defence Committee’s report Duty of Care: Third Report of Session 2004-05 which, ten years on, have not been partially or fully implemented, and around which substantial concerns about the welfare of young recruits remain.

An amendment to ensure that only those above 18 years of age are able to enlist in the armed forces will be debated in the House.

Britain is the only country in Europe and sole permanent member of the UN Security Council which enlists 16 and 17 years old into its armed forces.

This policy has been called into question by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and many other respected bodies, including Children’s Commissioners. A number of other bodies, including the Defence Committee have called for the policy to be reviewed.

The welfare of young recruits became a significant matter of concern for MPs after the deaths of four young soldiers at the military training barracks at Deepcut in Surrey.… Read more

London’s first ‘Military Preparation College’ opens

London’s first Military Preparation College has been set up. It is the 18th Military Preparation College in the UK. The stated aim of Military Preparation Colleges is to maximise young people’s chances of passing armed forces selection and completing basic training.

ForcesWatch would ask – given the armed forces’ current recruitment difficulties, and the high levels of dropping out during training – whether Military Preparation Colleges are  in the best interests of the young people or the military, and whether the students are told in detail about the unique risks, legal restrictions and ethical dilemmas faced in the armed forces.… Read more

Army failing to attract young recruits

The Army has failed to attract enough young recruits in 9 of the last 10 years, and is looking to change this by emphasising the Army’s non-combat work. ForcesWatch are concerned this could lead to the further overlooking of the fact that combat is the raison d’être of the armed forces.

The BBC has reported that the Army has failed to attract enough young recruits in 9 out of the last 10 years. Major General Chris Tickell, the Army’s head of recruitment, said they need to “change their message…The generation we are trying to recruit has a different view on life than previous generations…We need to explain to the young men and women that the army is actually much more than just about combat.”

ForcesWatch would certainly not deny that the armed forces carry out important humanitarian work, a very recent example being the deployment of the Army to help those affected by Storm Desmond over the last few days. However, as the Army has previously said, ‘The fundamental and perhaps only difference of significance, between military service and other legitimate professions and occupations is that servicemen and women must be prepared, at any time…to participate in protracted and sometimes wholesale destruction and violence, to kill and be killed…’

Combat, such as the RAF’s current bombing in Syria, is the primary role of the armed forces.Read more