UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Children’s Rights
In their report on Children’s Rights, the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended that the ‘UK adopt a plan of action for implementing the Optional Protocol, including these recommendations, fully in the UK, together with a clear timetable for doing so.’ The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendations under the Optional Protocol were that the UK ‘reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces’ and a number of other measures.
From the report:
Children and armed conflict
139. Article 38 of the Convention obliges states to take all feasible measures to ensure that children under the age of 15 do not take a direct part in hostilities. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Children in Armed Conflict, which the UK ratified in 2003, extends this protection by committing states to taking all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. At the time of its ratification of the Optional Protocol, the UK made a declaration to Article 1 of the Optional Protocol as to its understanding of the meaning of that provision, which we have previously criticised as being overbroad and serving to undermine the UK’s commitment not to deploy under-18s in conflict zones.
140. The UNCRC reported on the UK’s compliance with the Optional Protocol for the first time in its 2008 report. It made a series of recommendations including that the UK should:
- train all members of the armed forces and all relevant professionals on the Optional Protocol;
- publicise and promote the provisions of the Optional Protocol to adults and children;
- review its interpretative declaration to Article 1 to ensure that children are not exposed to the risk of taking direct part in hostilities;
- review its interpretative declaration to Article 3 (according to which the UK’s minimum age for recruitment was 16 years) and raise the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces to 18 years;
- reconsider its policy of active recruitment of children into the armed forces and ensure that it does not occur in a manner which specifically targets ethnic minorities and children of low-income families;
- review the requirements for permitting the discharge of child recruits;
- adopt and implement legislation criminalising the recruitment and involvement of children in hostilities contrary to the Optional Protocol;
- ensure and enforce extraterritorial jurisdiction for these crimes;
- ensure that legislation, codes, manuals and directives are in accordance with the Optional Protocol;
- collect data on and assist with the recovery and social reintegration of former child soldiers who enter the UK;
- abolish the handling and use of firearms for all children;
- ensure that child soldiers captured by UK forces are detained as a measure of last resort and in adequate conditions for their age and vulnerability; are guaranteed periodic and impartial reviews of their detention; and have access to independent complaint mechanisms;
- ensure that children in conflict with the military law are dealt with within the juvenile justice system; and
- expressly prohibit within legislation, the sale of arms to countries where children are known to be or may potentially be recruited or used in hostilities.
141. The Department told us:
We recognise the importance of providing special treatment for young people under the age of 18 serving in the Armed Forces and our policy is not to deploy under-18s on operations and we have introduced administrative guidelines and procedures to ensure they are withdrawn from their units before they are deployed to hostilities.
142. According to the Quakers, 28% of all recruits to the UK armed forces in 2007-8 were aged under 18 and the UK is unique in the EU in recruiting under-18 year olds into the armed forces. They suggested that this led to risks to the physical and mental well-being of adolescents. Some witnesses questioned whether under-18 year olds should be required to make a binding contract so far in the future and criticized the differential minimum service periods for under-18 year olds compared to adults. The Quakers and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England suggested that there should be discharge as of right up until a person’s eighteenth birthday.
143. We note the UN Committee’s extensive set of recommendations to the UK on compliance with the Optional Protocol. We recommend that the UK adopt a plan of action for implementing the Optional Protocol, including these recommendations, fully in the UK, together with a clear timetable for doing so.