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Tell the Wales Children's Commissioner to question armed forces visits to schools & the recruitment of minors!

Children's Commissioner for Wales, ForcesWatch, Child Soldiers International

The Children's Commissioner for Wales, Sally Hammond, has launched 'What Next?' surveys for children, young people and adults in Wales to tell her what issues they think she should work on.

ForcesWatch are encouraging people in Wales to fill in the survey, asking Sally to work on two things in particular: helping to make sure the Welsh Government acts to improve transparency and balance regarding armed forces visits to schools in Wales (which Welsh Government recently committed to doing), and lobbying the UK government to end the armed forces' recruitment of under-18s.

Sally's predecessor as Children's Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, did some work on both of these issues. It would be great if Sally were to do the same.

Below is information on the two issues to help you decide what to say to Sally about them when filling out the survey. The survey is open until 1 November

7-11 year-olds and 11-18 year-olds: the box you could type the comments in is in the middle of your survey, where it says: ‘Please tell us about any ideas you have for how you local area could be made a better place for young people’. Adults: there are two boxes where you could type your comments: ‘Would you like to make any comments on the priorities you have chosen above?’ (in the middle of your survey), and ‘Do you wish to contribute any other comments to the consultation?’ (at the end).

Information on armed forces ‘engagement’ with schools and colleges in Wales:

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child states that education must promote non-violence in school and ensure that students have the skills to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner. However, there is no compulsory or organised curriculum of peace education for UK schools. Instead, the military and military approaches are being championed within the education system: the armed forces make around 11,000 visits to secondary schools and colleges, often with a recruitment focus; the Ministry of Defence and armed forces produce ‘teaching resources’, including a cross-government resource promoted by the Department for Education to every school in the country in 2014; and the DfE-MoD Military Ethos in Schools programme is promoting military approaches in state schools through initiatives such as the huge expansion of Cadet forces.

This military ‘engagement’ with school students is driven by two agendas: recruitment and providing ‘positive information to influence future opinion-formers’. The military’s claims that their school visits do not amount to recruitment, and that they happen at a similar level to visits by the emergency services, have been disproved. Evidence suggests that students are often presented with a sanitised, glamourised image of the armed forces, and aren’t being systemically encouraged to consider the risks, legal restrictions and ethical dilemmas that the military represents.

In September 2015 the Welsh Government announced that it accepted three recommendations to try to improve transparency and balance regarding armed forces visits to schools in Wales, following a Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee investigation. Schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are visited disproportionately compared to schools in England, and within Wales state schools in more disadvantaged parts tend to receive more visits than private schools or state schools in more affluent areas. There is also considerable evidence that students in Wales are being given a sanitised, glamourised view of the armed forces during the visits, and that the emergency services are visiting schools in Wales for recruitment purposes much less than the armed forces, despite Ministry of Defence claims to the contrary. The expansion of the Cadets in disadvantaged state schools looks likely to include schools in Wales, joining other UK Government-funded 'Military Ethos in Schools' initiatives that are active in Wales.

Keith Towler, the predecessor of the current Children's Commissioner for Wales Sally Holland, raised important concerns about the nature of armed forces visits to schools in Wales. We are asking Sally to do the same, to keep the pressure up on the Welsh Government now that it has recognised some of the concerns and committed to taking action on them.

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Information on the recruitment of under-18s into the UK armed forces:

A large proportion of UK armed forces recruits come from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Wales. The UK is one of fewer than 20 countries worldwide – and the only one in the EU - that recruits 16 year olds into its armed forces. The Army takes most of the 16 and 17 year-old recruits. As the Army is exempt from the law that sets the minimum standards of education for 16-17s, the education the Army gives these recruits is very basic and falls short of minimum standards that apply everywhere else. More than a third of the youngest recruits leave the Army during training, and no-one knows what happens to them afterwards. 

The Ministry of Defence has said that it wants the youngest recruits 'particularly for the infantry', which means the youngest recruits from the most disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be given the jobs that are most dangerous once recruits turn 18 and can be sent to war.  The Infantry's fatality rate in Afghanistan was seven times that in the rest of the armed forces. The youngest recruits from the poorest backgrounds also face higher risks of mental health-related problems during army service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, heavy drinking and violent behaviour on return from a war zone.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, ratified by 161 countries, states that potential recruits must be ‘fully informed of the duties involved in military service’, but marketing for armed forces jobs presents a sanitised, glamourised image of the military, and Terms of Service are written in dense technical language that would be inaccessible to the majority of under-18s joining the Army, who have very low reading ages.

Keith Tower, the predecessor of the current Children's Commissioner for Wales Sally Holland, called on the UK Government to raise the minimum age of armed forces recruitment to 18.  We're asking Sally to do the same.

(source: Child Soldiers International, ‘Alternative report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the occasion of the UK’s Fifth Periodic Review report’ (forthcoming))

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