Stop recruiting children, rights groups tell MoD

Twenty major children’s and human rights organisations have written to the UK government today, calling for an end to the recruitment of children by the UK armed forces.

The letter asks the Secretary of State for Defence to use the Armed Forces Bill, which is being debated in Parliament on Wednesday 23 June, to raise the minimum enlistment age to 18 in law.

The press release from Child Rights International Network (CRIN) (below) gives figures of the number of allegations of sexual assault for under 18 year old girls in the armed forces. The letter is published to coincide with an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill 2021 which will be discussed in Parliament and aims to ensure that certain serious offences, including child abuse, perpetuated within the armed forces would be dealt with in the civil justice system.

Also see coverage in The Guardian.

Press release

Human rights organisations call on MoD to end recruitment of children as sexual assault allegations revealed

The government should use tomorrow’s Armed Forces Bill debate to raise the minimum recruitment age to 18, according to a letter sent today from children’s rights and welfare organisations to the Defence Secretary. The call comes as it emerges that girls aged under 18 in the armed forces have made 16 complaints of sexual assault to the military police since 2015.… Read more

More military ethos in schools

Schools Week report on the government’s continuing attempts to instill more military ethos in schools.

The Department for Education seem to justify the Troops to Teachers bursaries on the basis of its commitment to the armed forces covenant rather than the policy being useful or popular.

The Robert Goodwill’s report will focus on cadet units and suggest they should be more central in schools.  As cadet units in state schools have been active government policy since 2012, it looks like this report is an attempt to criticise headteachers who have well-founded fears that cadet units act as a recruitment tool for the armed forces.

Rebooted Troops to Teachers fails to take off

New £40,000 Troops to Teachers bursaries were introduced last September to encourage ex-service personnel into the classroom.

Announcing the move in March last year, former defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who has since become education secretary, said this would “motivate and inspire a generation of children in classrooms across the country”.

But figures obtained by Schools Week reveal just 22 ex-service personnel took up the undergraduate bursaries last year – the first of the programme.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said ministers’ attempts to encourage former military personnel into teaching “simply hasn’t worked”.… Read more

Scottish Government ignores child rights concerns around armed forces activities in schools

ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland press release (1)

Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch are disappointed that the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament have decided to close further investigation of how to implement their own recommendations around oversight of armed forces activities in schools.

The decision was taken at the same time as the Scottish Government is consulting on how to incorporate children’s rights into Scottish law.(2)

In a meeting on Thursday 5 September, the Public Petitions Committee agreed not to pursue their recommendations further. Whenever the petition was in front of the Committee extra Conservative MSPs attended to speak against it. While within the rules of parliament, it meant the voices round the table did not reflect the composition of the chamber, and petitioners were given no forewarning so they could ask MSPs who support the petition to also attend.

In 2018 the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee made a number of recommendations to ensure greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation around armed forces visits to schools in Scotland.(3) These were widely welcomed by child rights organisations.(4)

However, in responding to the recommendations, the Scottish Government chose not to assess the issue from a children’s rights perspective, as the Committee recommended.(5)… Read more

British army targets youngest and poorest for riskiest roles

The British army is intentionally targeting young people from deprived backgrounds for the roles carrying the greatest risks in war, according to a report launched today by the Child Rights International Network (CRIN).

The new study, Conscription by poverty? Deprivation and army recruitment in the UKstates that the UK is the only country in Europe to recruit from age 16; more soldiers are recruited at 16 than any other age.(1) Teenagers from the poorest areas are targeted despite evidence that enlistment at a young age is detrimental to mental health and social mobility.

As teenagers in England and Wales receive their GCSE results, the report concludes that remaining in education is better for their welfare and prospects than enlisting at 16.

According to the report:

  • New research shows that in England from 2013 to 2018, army recruitment of 16- and 17-year-olds was 57% higher in the poorest fifth of constituencies than the richest fifth.(2)
  • Army recruitment marketing is focused on the poorest towns and cities, particularly families with an annual income of around £10,000.(3)
  • Four-fifths of the most deprived young people in England now stay in full-time education after age 16, but marketing for the military encourages them to leave education for the army.(4)
Read more

Armed Forces Day is a propaganda tool for arms firms and the military – and the public are footing the bill

Today marks the 10th year of Armed Forces Day with the main event held in Salisbury. Styled as family friendly, the National Armed Forces Day event, and others around the country, feature militarised activities designed for children and young people. In between the ice creams and rides, kids are able to try on military uniform and can be shown how real (albeit deactivated) machine guns and other weapons work. Yet despite the fairground veneer to the proceedings, the events’ origins point to a much darker story.

Founded by Gordon Brown – and replacing what had been Veteran’s Day – Armed Forces Day was one strand of a package of proposals put together to re-militarise British society in a bid to stave off the popular backlash from failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, lest anti-war sentiment hinder future conflicts.

It is by now well-established by serious scholars of the topic that this was done in a bid to place beyond critique the violent, extractive and discredited foreign policy doctrine to which all UK political parties, British business, sections of our media and the country’s military elite were (and for the most part still are) fully committed. The hope was that even mild criticism would be conflated with an unpatriotic lack of support for individual soldiers.… Read more

New report calls for regulation of military marketing that targets young people

A report published today (27 February 2019) critiques the armed forces’ marketing practice in selling their careers to vulnerable adolescents. This comes in the wake of the Army’s controversial new ‘Snowflake’ recruiting campaign.

Selling the military: A critical analysis of contemporary recruitment marketing in the UK will be launched at an event this evening with Dr Guddi Singh – a paediatric doctor and presenter of a recent TV programme on BBC2 ‘Babies: Their Wonderful World’ – and Rhiannon Spear who, as a young member of the SNP, has campaigned for the age of military recruitment to be raised in the UK.

The report explores how military marketing campaigns exploit developmental vulnerabilities in adolescents and young people, particularly in those that are impacted by social inequality. [3]

It details how the emphasis put on camaraderie and self-development in the British Army’s ‘This is Belonging’ campaign and other recent recruitment advertising misrepresents and masks some of the harder realities of military life. The campaigns also serve to depoliticise the military’s image and promote self-fulfilment in the context of conflict.

The report calls for military marketing campaigns to be evaluated and regulated in line with recent developments in medical understanding of adolescent psychologies, how young people are more vulnerable to sophisticated marketing techniques, and in the context of recent research on the risks associated with military recruitment for young recruits in particular.… Read more

Adverse health effects of recruiting child soldiers

This editorial in BMJ Paediatrics Open (2019, vol 3, issue 1) discusses the issues raised in the Medact report, The recruitment of children by the UK Armed Forces: a critique from health professionals, which brought together evidence highlighting the increased risk of death and injury for those recruited under the age of 18. It revealed the long-term impacts of the British military’s recruitment of children under the age of 18, presented evidence linking ‘serious health concerns’ with the policy and called for a rise in the minimum recruitment age.

The authors, Reem Abu-Hayyeh and Guddi Singh, contributed to the content and launch of the report Selling the military: A critical analysis of contemporary recruitment marketing in the UK by ForcesWatch and Medact.… Read more

UK army minimum recruitment age should be raised to 18 – survey

Three-quarters of people believe the minimum recruitment age for the British army should be raised from 16 to 18, according to a survey commissioned by campaigners against child soldiers. The nationwide survey found 72% of people who expressed a view believed young people should not be able to join the army until they are 18. One in 10 said they believed the minimum age should be 21, according to the ICM survey, which was commissioned by campaigners and charities including Child Soldiers International. The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit soldiers at 16 and the UN committee on the rights of the child is among the organisations that have challenged the UK’s position. Would-be recruits can apply to join the British army when they are at least 15 years and seven months old. In the US the minimum age is 17. Rachel Taylor, the head of campaigns at Child Soldiers International, said: “It is evident that public opinion is that the minimum age for army recruitment should be 18 or higher. The British army’s pursuit of 16- and 17-year-olds is out of sync with the majority of the world and this survey shows that large swathes of the public think enlistment should start from adulthood.Read more

British army ‘explicitly targeting’ working-class recruits, say critics

British military recruiters are targeting working-class young people who like risk, are easily influenced and are poor at money management, a briefing document for a glossy army advertising campaign suggests.

The document for the army’s This Is Belonging campaign also highlights a drive to recruit young people in cities in northern England and to grab the attention of possible recruits in places such as gyms, pubs and cinemas.

However, the document warns against showing This Is Belonging adverts before war films. Campaigners against the recruitment of child soldiers say this is to protect the “sanitised” version of army life that the campaign promotes, though the army insists it is because it does not want to attract recruits who glory in violence.

There is concern about some of the army’s tactics for drawing in new recruits. In the summer the Guardian revealed that the army had aimed This Is Belonging material at stressed and vulnerable 16-year-olds via social media on and around GCSE results day.

The briefing paper gives details of how and where This Is Belonging adverts should be placed and gives an insight into some of the thinking behind the campaign, which critics claim gives an unrealistic and romantic idea of life in the army.… Read more

Arms industry spends millions to promote brands in schools

Arms manufacturers are spending millions of pounds a year promoting their brands in Britain’s schools, the Observer has learned.

The companies, which between them have sold tens of billions of pounds of weapons to overseas governments, including those with poor human rights records, sponsor a series of school events at which their brands are prominently on display. In addition, they issue teaching materials for use in classrooms that promote the defence sector, sponsor competitions and award prizes.

One company even deployed a high-profile children’s television presenter to promote its activities in a school, while another developed a missile simulator for pupils to “play with”. Critics accuse the companies of trying to “normalise their appalling business” in the minds of the young, but the body representing the defence sector says such an approach is vital if the UK is to produce a future generation of engineers.

“When these companies are promoting themselves to children they are not talking about the deadly impact their weapons are having,” said Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade. “Many of these companies have profited from war and fuelled atrocities around the world.… Read more