UK under fire for recruiting an 'army of children'

MoD finds itself in the company of countries such as North Korea over use of teenage soldiers

More than one in 10 new Army recruits are boy soldiers of just 16 years old, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Defence. And more than one in four of all new Army recruits are under 18 – too young to be sent into combat.

The figures, released last week, have sparked renewed criticism of the British Army's use of boy soldiers. Following an outcry over the deployment of 17-year-olds to the Gulf War in 1991, and to Kosovo in 1999, the Army amended its rules stopping soldiers under 18 from being sent on operations where there was a possibility of fighting. Despite this, at least 20 soldiers aged 17 are known to have served in Afghanistan and Iraq due to errors by the MoD.

Critics claim the figures mean Britain stands alongside some of the world's most repressive regimes by recruiting children into the armed forces – among under 20 countries, including North Korea and Iran, that allow 16-year-olds to join up. They accused the MoD of deliberately targetting teenagers not old enough to vote in a bid to boost recruitment.

There are more than 1,700 teenagers in the armed forces below voting age. The vast majority of 16- and 17-year-olds are in the Army, according to the 2014 annual personnel report. And the proportion of Army recruits aged just 16 has risen from 10 per cent in 2012-13 to 13 per cent in 2013-14. Many of them would have begun the enlistment process when they were 15, according to campaigners.

"By recruiting at 16, the UK isolates itself from its main political and military allies and finds itself instead sharing a policy with the likes of North Korea and Iran. These are not states which the UK would normally want its military to be associated with," said Richard Clarke, director of Child Soldiers International.

And Paola Uccellari, director of Children's Rights Alliance for England, said: "Targeting children for recruitment into the armed forces puts them at risk of serious and irreparable harm. The Government should not rely on children to plug gaps in the armed forces."

Despite mounting pressure internationally, with UN bodies such as Unicef, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict all in favour of the recruitment age being raised to 18, the MoD continues to take on 16-year-olds.

"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," added Mr Clarke. "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," he said.

Critics believe a mounting military recruitment crisis in the armed forces is one reason behind the increases. Plans to create tens of thousands of reservists to fill the gap left by mass redundancies of serving soldiers are understood to be well behind expectations. Reserves currently number 22,010, an increase of 30 compared with 12 months ago. At the current rate of recruitment, it will take more than four centuries to meet the target of a 35,000-strong reserve force by 2018.

An MoD spokesperson dismissed the concerns as "nonsense". "A career in the armed forces provides young people with benefits and opportunities, equipping them with valuable and transferable skills for life, so it is encouraging that young people continue to recognise this and are coming forward to serve their country." The MoD has "procedures in place to ensure no one under 18 may join our armed forces without the formal written consent of their parent or guardian and no one under 18 can deploy on operations".

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, defended the practice of recruiting 16-year-olds. "Some of the finest soldiers I commanded during my 30 years in the Army started their careers as juniors, enlisting at 16." The approach "unquestionably boosts the quality and fighting effectiveness of the armed forces". He added: "Calling this scheme unethical and operationally unsound not only betrays Child Soldiers International's ignorance of military matters but also insults the young men and women who serve their country with courage, pride and distinction."

But Madeleine Moon MP, a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, described the increase in recruitment of under-18s as "alarming". "The failure to recruit adults should not be used as an excuse to flood the Army with vulnerable youngsters."

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?