Your country needs your children – MoD targets teens to fix recruitment crisis


Child Soldiers International press release

  • More than 1 in 10 Army recruits are now just 16 years old
  • More than 1 in 4 are under 18 – too young to be deployed

Amid ongoing controversy around the MoD’s struggling recruitment campaigns for the armed forces, figures published this week reveal that the Army has resorted to increasing numbers of 16-year-olds in an attempt to fix the recruitment shortfall.

Annual personnel figures published by the MoD on Thursday show an increase in the number of 16-year-olds recruited from 9 per cent of total Army intake in 2012/13 to 13 per cent in 2013/14. Many of them would have begun the enlistment process when they were 15 years old. More than one in four (27 per cent) Army recruits last year were under 18 – too young to be deployed into hostilities. In total numbers, recruitment figures for 16- and 17-year-olds were higher than for any other age groups.

These figures are released just a few months after the Defence Select Committee expressed frustration at the MoD’s continued failure to produce any evidence to justify its policy of recruiting minors, which research has shown to be financially and operationally unsound. The Defence Committee had previously challenged the MoD to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the policy in July 2013. The MoD has so far failed to produce a response, despite assurances in January from the Minister for Armed Forces Personnel that a review was underway. The review was expected to report in March.

“Research has shown that 16-year-old recruits are much more likely than adults to suffer bullying and harassment, to develop serious mental health problems, to be injured in training, and to be killed once they reach deployable age. They are also twice as expensive to train. The MoD might think that it’s a quick fix to use children to fill the Army roles adults don’t want to do but it’s unethical and operationally unsound”, said Richard Clarke, Director, Child Soldiers International.

“Recruiting 16-year-olds is not in their best interests, or the best interests of the armed forces. That’s why no other major military power does it.”

A campaign to raise the enlistment age to 18 has put the MoD under pressure from an increasingly diverse range of sources including children’s rights organisations, teachers, faith groups, veterans and parliamentarians, including former Minister for the Armed Forces, Sir Nick Harvey. The Church of Scotland and the Bishops of the Church in Wales were among those adding their support to the campaign on Remembrance Day last year , while Conservative MP John Glen recently called for the MoD to stop enlisting minors and to use the financial savings to fund “military academy” schools or cadet forces instead. A national ICM poll in 2013 found that 70 per cent of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum army recruitment age should be at least 18.


Notes for Editors:

  •  MoD “UK Armed Forces Annual Personnel Report” available at Table 7 shows intake by age. The ratio of minors recruited into the Navy almost doubled from last year, from 5 to 9 per cent, while figures for the RAF remained constant (7 per cent). The Army recruited 810 16-year-olds and 960 17-year-olds. The armed forces as a whole recruited 870 16-year-olds and 1,250 17-year-olds.
  • The large majority of countries worldwide now recruit only from age 18 or above. The UK is the only country in the EU or permanent member of the UN Security Council which still recruits 16-year-olds. In Germany and the United States the minimum recruitment age is 17 years. Minors recruited into these armed forces account for just 7 and 5 per cent of annual intake respectively. (Full figures available on request)
  • Supporters of the campaign to raise the enlistment age include: Child Soldiers International, ForcesWatch, UNICEF-UK, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), Children in Scotland, Kids Company, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), Veterans for Peace, National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Church of Scotland, the Bishops of the Church in Wales, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Methodist Peace Fellowship, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Pax Christi.
  • The Defence Select Committee (2005, 2013, 2014), the Joint Committee on Human Rights (2009, 2010) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2002, 2008) have all called on the MoD to review the minimum recruitment age with a view to raising it to 18 years. In March this year, the EU Directorate-General for External Policies published a report which called on all member states to raise their enlistment age to 18 (para. 6.2):
  • 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. Our research on child recruits in the British armed forces is available at

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