Youngest soldiers face the greatest risks


Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks:

An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan

Authors: David Gee and Anna Goodman

Published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, August 2013

The risk of fatality in Afghanistan for recruits who enlisted into the British Army aged 16 and completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above.

The authors believe the increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is the result of recruitment policies which drive young people with limited academic qualifications into the Army’s most dangerous roles. Those who enlist at 16 are effectively barred from entering many of the less risky support or technical roles due to lack of qualifications. Another probable contributing factor is the longer average career length of 16 year old recruits who successfully complete training, leading to more tours of duty in Afghanistan when compared with adult recruits.

The study analyses data on British Army fatalities in the Afghanistan war and compares this with published recruitment data over a ten-year period. It concludes that:

  • Although fatalities have been uncommon among British forces in Afghanistan, soldiers who enlisted at age 16 and subsequently completed training have been approximately twice as likely to die there as those enlisting at age 18 or above. (Odds ratio 1.92, 95% CI 1.39-2.66, p<0.001, n=209)
  • Since higher fatality rates are correlated with higher rates of non-fatal physical injuries and psychiatric casualties, these other war-zone hazards are also likely to form part of the increased risk for soldiers who enlisted at 16.
  • The relatively higher risk to those who enlist as minors applies despite the prohibition on deployment to war zones until they are 18 years of age.


Read the report: Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks: An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan

Read the press release: Youngest Army recruits pay highest price in Afghanistan, new report shows: Soldiers who enlisted at 16 have faced twice the risk of death in Afghanistan 

Read ForcesWatch response to the Ministry of Defence's statement about this study

Scottish Parliament Petition

ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament to:

  • scrutinise armed forces visits to schools in Scotland
  • provide guidance on how such visits should be conducted
  • ensure that parents are always consulted.

The petition is now being heard by the Scottish Parliament. See more info.

Sign the petition to raise the age of recruitment

We call on the UK Government to stop its policy of allowing 15 year olds to apply and 16 and 17 year olds to be recruited into the Armed Forces.
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British army: one young recruit's story, The Guardian 2013