Stop Recruiting Children, Rights Groups Tell MOD

23 June 2021

The Children’s Law Centre joined numerous human rights organisations in calling for the Ministry of Defence to end the recruitment of children to the UK military.

In a joint letter to the Defence Secretary, the groups call on the UK government to use the Armed Forces Bill debate at Westminster to raise the minimum recruitment age to 18.

The call comes as it emerges that girls under 18 in the armed forces have made 16 complaints of sexual assault to the military police since 2015.

The joint letter states that recruiting children from age 16 is “unambiguously incompatible with their rights and welfare”, as it draws them out of education early, exposes them to the “intense stress of military training”, and requires them to commit to “sweeping obligations that could not lawfully be imposed on a civilian worker of any age”.

  • The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit children from age 16 into the armed forces; more soldiers are recruited at 16 than any other age.
  • The latest recruitment figures show that in the year 2020-21, one in every five new recruits was legally a child; one in four in the army (3,280 under-18s were enlisted into the armed forces; 2,410 of them joined the army).
  • Signatories of the joint letter include: the Chilren’s Law Centre, the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; Amnesty International UK; The Children’s Society; Human Rights Watch; Liberty; the National Education Union; and War Child.
  • New figures from the MoD show that, in the last six years, girls under the age of 18 in the armed forces have made 16 allegations of sexual assault to the military police, equivalent to 3 per year, or one for every 75 girls.
  • Most recruits under the age of 18 train at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate. Recruits at the College, and their parents, made 60 complaints of violent behaviour by staff between 2014 and 2020.

The letter argues that this simple step forward would set the same standard in the UK that it has asked of armed forces and groups around the world, and help to bring a global ban on the military use of children into view.