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Children's rights groups call on MoD to stop recruiting children

Child Soldiers International

The armed forces should stop recruiting children under the age of 18, according to an open letter to the Ministry of Defence from national children’s organisations and rights groups.

The children’s rights alliances for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are among the signatories of an open letter to the Ministry of Defence, calling for an immediate end to the recruitment of under-18s. The signatories, which also include the Children’s Commissioners for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, call on the MoD to raise the recruitment age in line with the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (The Children’s Commissioner for England has previously indicated her support for this issue). The letter points out that the UK is the only country in Europe to allow enlistment from age 16 – most countries worldwide now only allow adults from age 18 to join military forces, recognising that enlistment at younger ages is not appropriate in modern armed forces.

The letter has been made public on the same day that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child begins its periodic examination of the UK’s record on child rights. The last time the UK appeared before the Committee, in 2008, it was urged to raise the enlistment age to 18. The Committee also expressed concern about the MoD’s deliberate targeting of children from economically deprived areas.

The letter recognises the appeal of an armed forces career for many young people but argues that “in view of the risks and legal obligations involved, the choice to enlist should be fully informed and only made once young people have reached the age of legal majority”. Signatories also highlighted the elevated risks incurred by those who enlist as children, as the majority join frontline combat roles where risks are higher than average over the course of their military career.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to prioritise older recruits for enlistment. Despite this, in its current report to the Committee the UK government has admitted it intends to increase the number of children it recruits, in order to compensate for recruitment shortfalls.

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