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Army recruitment of under-18s wastes £94 million every year, claims new report

ForcesWatch press release


Huge cost of ‘out of date’ recruitment of minors

The Ministry of Defence wastes up to £94 million every year training minors for army roles which could be filled more cost-effectively by adult recruits, according to a new report launched today by human rights groups Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch.

It costs the MoD twice as much to train a recruit at age 16 as it does at 18, says the report, due to the longer training for minors and their higher drop-out rate.  Using MoD figures, One Step Forward: The case for ending recruitment of minors by the British armed forces found that, in 2010-11:

  •     It cost an estimated minimum of £88,985 to recruit and train each new soldier aged 16-17½, compared with £42,818 for each adult recruit (includes salary costs). (1)
  •     The taxpayer would have saved an estimated £81.5 million - £94 million had only adults been recruited. (2)
  •     37% of minors dropped out during training, compared with 28% of adult recruits. (3)

The report’s authors also underline the numerous ethical and legal concerns related to the recruitment of minors, including the disproportionately high level of risk they face and long-term consequences for their employability.

The large majority of countries worldwide now recruit only adults aged 18 or above into their armed forces.  The UK is the only member of the European Union and only permanent member of the UN Security Council still recruiting from age 16.  A recent national ICM poll found that 70 per cent of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum army recruitment age should be at least 18. (4)

The report illustrates how projected staffing levels could be filled and costs reduced by recruiting adults only, resulting in a more efficient and easier to manage personnel structure.  It calls on the MoD to commission a review as a matter of urgency and take action to implement the repeated recommendations from parliamentary and UN committees to raise the army recruitment age to 18.

“Why is the MoD wasting tens of millions of pounds every year on inefficient and ethically questionable recruitment policies when experienced soldiers are being made redundant due to budget cuts?” asked Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International.

“Recruiting minors into the army is a practice from a bygone era.  It’s not just young recruits who pay the price for outdated MoD policies – taxpayers do too.  And so does the Army, when it finds itself undermanned on the frontline because so many minors have dropped out of training”, said David Gee of ForcesWatch.


To receive an embargoed copy of the report or to arrange interviews with the authors please contact:

Rachel Taylor
Office: 020 7367 4110.

Notes for Editors:

  • Nick Harvey MP, former Minister for the Armed Forces, will be hosting an open meeting at Parliament on 14 May to discuss the findings of this report.  Speakers will include Patrick Mercer MP, former Army Colonel.
  • One Step Forward: The case for ending recruitment of minors by the British armed forces is the result of eight months’ unique research and analysis by two experts in military recruitment issues, both of whom have published a number of related reports in recent years.
  • One Step Forward presents the financial, military-operational and ethical case for ending the recruitment of minors and shows how the armed forces could rely exclusively on adult recruits without detriment to projected staffing levels.
  • At any one time, approximately 150 soldiers are fully trained but too young to be deployed.  It costs approximately £2.65 million to pay the salaries of these soldiers.  (Calculated as £17,690 (trained recruit salary 2013/14) x 150 trained under-18s =£2,653,500 per annum).
  • The Defence Select Committee (2005), the Joint Committee on Human Rights (2009) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) have all called on the MoD to review the minimum recruitment age with a view to raising it to 18 years.  These recommendations have never been acted on or received a substantive response.
  • Child Soldiers International is an international human rights research and advocacy organisation seeking to end the military recruitment and the use in hostilities, in any capacity, of any person under the age of 18.
  • ForcesWatch is a British-based campaigning organisation seeking to hold the state to account on the ethical integrity of its recruitment of young people into the armed forces.


1. Hansard: HC Deb, 13 September 2011, c1146W; 15 December 2011, c865W. This covers Phase One training only.

2. This calculation is based on recruiting for a nominal ten-year career and accounts for differing trainee drop-out rates and average career lengths between minors and adults.

3. Hansard: HC Deb, 25 November 2011, c595W.

4. ICM interviewed a random sample of 2,018 adults in Great Britain between 28 March and 1 April 2013. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results were weighted to the profile of all adults. See details here.

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