Letter: Young soldiers

Sir: Thank you for the informative article "Ban on soldiers under 18 resisted by Britain and US" (18 January). The problem is not just the age at which soldiers are recruited, or even the young age at which they are sent into battle, but the uniquely British system which we term "the five year trap".

The MOD has said that "young servicemen ... could leave at any time during their basic training". However, basic training, for those who join before 18 years, means a period of only five months, from the second to the sixth month of service.

Six months after signing a document which most of them do not understand, the 16-year-old soldiers are committed to full-time service at least until the age of 21 plus three months, and to Reserve obligation until the age of 40.

In 1996 Dr John Reid promised a delegation of which I was a member that, when Labour was elected and he became Minister for the Armed Forces, the recruitment contracts for under-18s would be reformed. He suggested keeping the present five-month recruit's right of discharge but giving an additional one-off chance to leave at the age of 18, with a financial bonus for those who remained.

Not only has this promise not been kept but the Government has intensified a recruitment campaign targeted at younger teenagers.

GWYN GWYNTOPHER

At Ease voluntary counsellor

London E1

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