ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch comment

Members of the Scottish Parliament have agreed to produce a report into military visits in Scotland’s schools.

The move – announced at a sitting of the Public Petitions Committee last week – came as a direct response to our petition on the issue, along with Quakers in Scotland.

This seeks greater transparency, guidance and parental consultation around military visits to Scottish schools.

In a new submission to the Committee ahead of the hearing we analysed MoD figures, provided under a freedom of information request, which showed that 770 visits were made by the armed forces to Scottish schools between April 2016 and March 2017.

Nearly 60 per cent of these were made by the Army and 75 per cent of the visits promoted a career in the military. 

Now a report into the matter is due to be published later this year which we hope will make substantial recommendations given the weight of evidence behind the petition.

Rhianna Louise, ForcesWatch’s Education and Outreach worker. said: "We welcome the promised Public Petitions Committee report on armed forces visits to schools.

“It is vital that the report's safeguarding proposals take into consideration the evidence submitted by the Scottish Youth Parliament, Connect (formerly Scottish Parent Teachers Council), Together (the Scotland Alliance for Children's Rights) and Scotland's Children's Commissioner.

“Each of these stakeholders has testified to the current lack of adequate safeguards protecting young people from the military having unbalanced access to the education system for recruitment purposes.

“We are now hoping for an informed report, showing that child rights and welfare take precedence in Scotland over the military's desire to promote its image and to make up for adult recruit shortfalls with child recruits.

“Crucially we do not see this as a political matter but rather but something which relates to duty of care and the welfare of all children in Scotland’s schools.”

Eileen Prior, executive direct of Connect told CommonSpace that the parliament’s plans to report on the issue was “good news”.

Two MPs (Edward Mountain and Maurice Corry of the Conservatives) who are not members of the Committee attended the hearing and were given permission to speak, though not take part in decision making.

They both sought to close the petition as did their party colleagues Brian Whittle and Michelle Ballantyne who are PPC members. However, Angus MacDonald of the SNP said “attempts to shut down this petition are premature” and added that there is a “need for this Committee to compile and publish a report to give justice to the petitioners as well as to the Armed Forces.”

This proposal was backed up by his SNP colleague Rhona Mackay who said she had “serious concerns” about military visits, adding “we should certainly have a report and we need to get further information.”

In conclusion the Convenor of the Committee, Labour’s Johann Lamont, said a report was a necessary step in order to “explore further what those safeguards might look like” and “test the argument” that schools may be “railroaded in” to allowing military visits.


ForcesWatch comment

Three cases involving over 40 claimants and 16 Army instructors have collapsed, raising a number of serious concerns about the way the investigations and trials were conducted within the military justice system.

The result is that serious allegations into abuse of the youngest army recruits have not been tested, and justice – both for the claimants and for the defendants – has not been served.

This unsatisfactory outcome leaves a climate of uncertainty about the incidences themselves, and more broadly about how capable the army is of dealing with abuse claims.

There is a special duty of care necessary for people under 18, the age of the claimants at the time of the alleged incidents. Allegations of this kind, which involve the human rights of minors, demand a far higher standard of investigation than that conducted by the RMP in this case.

The failure of the military to adequately investigate and prosecute the cases will strengthen calls for abuse cases to be dealt with by civilian authorities, particularly if they are serious, involve multiple incidents or claimants, or involve recruits under the age of 18.

The progress of the trial

The cases first came to public attention last year, three years after the incidents of abuse were alleged to have taken place.

 The non-commissioned officers faced 31 charges, including 25 of ill-treatment and six of battery, dating from June 2014. The charges alleged that the recruits were slapped or punched, spat at, grabbed by the throat, forced to eat manure and had their faces submerged in mud by the army instructors. Two of the cases involved allegations of incidents which took place on bayonet training at Kirkcudbright in Scotland and one case involved allegations of incidents that occurred in the accommodation at the Army Foundation College, Harrogate (AFCH) in North Yorkshire. AFCH is in fact the training establishment for most of the Army's under-18 recruits (junior soldiers).

The three trials began in February at the Military Court Centre in Bulford but were subject to reporting restrictions so could not be commented on in the media.

On 28 February, after prosecution arguments and witnesses for the first case had been heard in court, the prosecution dropped many of the charges, which resulted in the number of defendants being reduced from 10 to 5. The defence counsel then argued that the failure to interview potential key witnesses for the defence, as well as the long delay between the alleged incidents and trial amounted to an abuse of process and they applied for the proceedings in the first case to be 'stayed'. The judge agreed to this and made a long statement condemning the investigation by the Royal Military Police (RMP). The five defendants were released on the grounds that a fair trial was no longer possible. See a summary of the abuse of process ruling below.

At the following hearing, the case involving seven defendants was dropped and all charges were dropped, but the court was told that the final case, involving two defendants and 8 charges, would go ahead.

Last week we heard that the Service Prosecuting Authority were reviewing the case and a statement would be made by the judge on Monday morning.

Yesterday the prosecutor (a different prosecutor, as the original one had been taken off the case) offered no evidence in the case and the defendants were found not guilty. What we don't know is why no evidence was offered for this final case, or why there was a new prosecutor.


ForcesWatch comment

Today is the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. Today also sees the start of a court martial of 16 instructors at Army Foundation College Harrogate which trains young recruits aged under 18. They are charged with numerous counts of bullying and abuse.

Today, February 12th, is Red Hand Day: the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

ForcesWatch are part of the "Zero under 18" or the #MakeIt18 campaign, which aims at the universal ratification of the UN's Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Although the UK has ratified this treaty, and although we do not deploy soldiers until they are 18, we are under heavy human rights and child right based criticism for continuing to recruit from 16.

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) reviewed the UK’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and made a number of important points which we are still bringing to the attention of the UK government today.

Areas of concern raised by the UN CRC were:       

  • The State party maintains the wide scope of its interpretative declaration on article 1 of the Optional Protocol, which may permit the deployment of children to areas of hostilities and their involvement in hostilities under certain circumstances;
  • The minimum age for voluntary recruitment as 16 years has not been changed and child recruits makes up 20 per cent of the recent annual intake of United Kingdom Regular Armed Forces;
  • The Army Board endorsed increasing the recruitment of personnel under 18 years old to avoid undermanning, and children who come from vulnerable groups are disproportionately represented among recruits;
  • Safeguards for voluntary recruitment are insufficient, particularly in the light of the very low literacy level of the majority of under-18 recruits and the fact that briefing materials provided to child applicants and their parents or guardians do not clearly inform them of the risks and obligations that follow their enlistment;
  • In the army, child recruits can be required to serve a minimum period of service up to two years longer than the minimum period for adult recruits.

And the recommendations made by the Committee were that the UK:

  • Consider reviewing its position and raise the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces to 18 years in order to promote the protection of children through an overall higher legal standard;
  • Reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces and ensure that recruitment practices do not actively target persons under the age of 18 and ensure that military recruiters’ access to school be strictly limited;
  •  In recruiting persons under the age of 18, strengthen its safeguards required by article 3 of the Optional Protocol, in order to ensure that the recruitment is genuinely voluntary and based on fully informed consent of the recruit and their parents and legal guardians, and ensure that recruitment does not have a discriminatory impact on children of ethnic minorities and low-income families;
  •  Ensure that the minimum period of service applied to children who enlist into the army is no longer than that applied to adult recruits.

The UK is flying in the face of each recommendation made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It continues to recruit under the age of 18, despite evidence that early enlistment is connected with detrimental health outcomes and long-term deprivation.

It continues to actively target under 18 year olds through marketing campaigns and recruitment activities in schools, which are neither adequately balanced nor scrutinised. It is actively targeting low-income families and children of ethnic minorities as a matter of policy, and manipulative, glamourised and targeted marketing campaigns undermine voluntary informed consent. 

Raising recruitment to 18 and achieving a higher legal standard protecting children would be no small thing.

It would set an example to other countries who have yet to protect children from involvement in armed conflict. It would place greater incentive on minors thinking of enlisting into the military, and their educators and caregivers, to gain better and further qualifications beforehand, which would greatly enhance their social mobility prospects.

recruitment age, risks

ForcesWatch comment

We report on a recent meeting in Parliament with a range of speakers on the urgent need to raise the age of recruitment to the armed forces in the UK.

Our campaign to raise the age of military recruitment to 18 was discussed in the Westminster Parliament recently (17 January 2018) before representatives of all the mainstream parties.

The gathering was held under the banner Catch 16: Risks & consequences of enlisting minors into the British Armed Forces.

It was hosted by Liz Saville Roberts MP, who’s party – Plaid Cymru – are supportive of 'Straight 18' along with the SNP and the Greens.

Liz Saville Roberts made it clear she was “not against the army per se” but said she was concerned that “we are being sold a myth that the army is the right solution for young people”.

As someone from an educational rather than a military background she also sounded a grave warning – of “a tragedy” linked to age that was likely to occur if the law remained as it is today on the recruitment age.

She was joined by Rachel Taylor, the Director of Programmes at Child Soldiers International, who told the gathering that “the MoD uses 16 and 17 year olds to mitigate shortfalls in infantry”. Nearly one quarter (23%) of army recruits are under 18, yet other countries do not need to rely on this age group. Even in countries like the U.S., which still recruit at 17, a far smaller number of recruits comes from this age group.

Rachel detailed how research now shows that young recruits fair least well (higher drop out rates, less likely to be promoted, higher unemployment rates and generally poorer outcomes, higher mental health and injury rates) and debunks the myth that army enlistment is a sure way of improving a young person's prospects.

In front of the MPs, Lords, Parliamentary staff, journalists and campaigners the army recruit turned filmmaker, Wayne Sharrocks, gave a compelling and emotional account of his experience of joining the British Army as a minor.

In 2006, aged 17, he joined the British infantry without even asking the basic questions about terms and conditions. He described the continual conditioning and punishment that training involves, particularly in order to be able to kill “at the flick of a switch”.

At 18, he was deployed to Afghanistan. While on tour he had numerous traumatic experiences including suffering major facial injuries, and witnessing the death and maiming of friends at close hand.

Life-long mental health problems

After being discharged in 2013, Wayne suffered serious depression resulting in a breakdown. It was only after leaving that he started to question what he had been through. He said that, with the mind still forming at the young age at which he enlisted, the conditioning would leave permanent effects.


ForcesWatch comment on the 2018 British Army recruitment advertising campaign

A shorter version of this article is published by The Huffington Post

The new British Army advertising campaign focuses on its ability to ‘emotionally and physically’ support recruits from all backgrounds. It is designed to promote an inclusive image, saying that it is fine to be emotional, to be gay, to be from ethnic minority backgrounds - everyone is accepted and treated well in the Army.

ForcesWatch welcomes any commitments and improvements the military makes to the welfare of soldiers. If the British Army is truly to be ‘the best’ then it must treat its personnel with dignity and respect and it must champion human rights.

However, we caution that the reality of military life is not accurately represented in this new campaign, and that the welfare of the core group of recruits into the Army should not be overlooked.

The British Army is struggling with recruitment, but it is also struggling with retention. Improving the conditions for soldiers, and recruiting an adult-only force, would improve retention rates and save money. This would be far better than continuing to splash out on expensive and often unpopular recruitment advertising campaigns.

What’s behind this new campaign?

While the core recruitment pool for the British Army is white, young, male and working class, they are seeking to diversify their intake by recruiting more females and more black, Asian and ethnic minority people. They are however, continuing to target young people and the working class as a matter of policy.

The UK is the only country in Europe and the only major military power to recruit at 16. Although under 18 year olds cannot be deployed until they turn 18, there are dangers and long-term disadvantages associated with early enlistment and training. The very youngest recruits are channelled into the most dangerous roles. Over one third of recruits into the UK army are under 18, and four fifths of under 18 year olds in the military go into the army. 

This campaign is part of the 'This is Belonging' marketing campaign launched a year ago, which has attracted criticism for its highly unbalanced view of military life and for taking advantage of the developmental stages of the adolescent brain, particularly among the most vulnerable – namely, the formation of social identity and the need to feel a sense of belonging.