UK army minimum recruitment age should be raised to 18 – survey
Three-quarters of people believe the minimum recruitment age for the British army should be raised from 16 to 18, according to a survey commissioned by campaigners against child soldiers. The nationwide survey found 72% of people who expressed a view believed young people should not be able to join the army until they are 18. One in 10 said they believed the minimum age should be 21, according to the ICM survey, which was commissioned by campaigners and charities including Child Soldiers International. The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit soldiers at 16 and the UN committee on the rights of the child is among the organisations that have challenged the UK’s position. Would-be recruits can apply to join the British army when they are at least 15 years and seven months old. In the US the minimum age is 17. Rachel Taylor, the head of campaigns at Child Soldiers International, said: “It is evident that public opinion is that the minimum age for army recruitment should be 18 or higher. The British army’s pursuit of 16- and 17-year-olds is out of sync with the majority of the world and this survey shows that large swathes of the public think enlistment should start from adulthood.” The percentage of respondents from the north of England who backed the minimum age being increased to 18 was slightly bigger, at 75% of those who expressed a preference. Northern England is an important recruiting ground for the army. Young people were also more likely than older respondents to say the minimum age should be raised, according to the survey. Taylor said: “This poll shows that the communities which are heavily targeted with recruitment advertising, and which typically provide the youngest recruits, are among those most in favour of a higher enlistment age. “It is also notable how strong the support is among 18- to 24-year-olds for a higher minimum age. They are acutely aware of the huge leaps in maturity which occurred during their recent adolescence, and recognise how much their interests and ambitions have changed.” The Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said: “Despite the Ministry of Defence’s desperate attempts to make the armed forces as attractive to young people as it can, it is clear that the public, and in particular young people, do not believe the armed forces is the right environment for under-18s. It is now time for the UK government to take note of this and bring its policy on recruitment of under-18s in line with the majority of countries around the world.” In June the Guardian revealed that in previous years the British army had targeted recruitment material at 16-year-olds via social media on and around GCSE results day. The Guardian revealed last year that the army had targeted young people from working-class backgrounds in a glossy recruitment campaign called This Is Belonging, despite claiming to aim advertising at all socioeconomic groups. The latest survey is broadly in line with previous polls. In 2013 a survey found that 70% of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum enlistment age should be 18 or above. In 2014 the figure was 78%. The fresh poll was carried out by ICM with 2,010 adults across the UK surveyed between 20 and 23 July. It was commissioned by Child Soldiers International, ForcesWatch, Medact and Saville Roberts.
This editorial in BMJ Paediatrics Open (2019, vol 3, issue 1) discusses the issues raised in the Medact report, The recruitment of children by the UK Armed Forces: a critique from health professionals, which brought together evidence highlighting the increased risk of death and injury for those recruited under the age of 18. The authors, Reem Abu-Hayyeh and Guddi Singh, contributed to the content and launch of the report Selling the military: A critical analysis of contemporary recruitment marketing in the UK by ForcesWatch and Medact.