MoD accused of 'glamorising' war

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Young people are being recruited into the Army with misleading marketing, and the disillusionment which follows has led to a huge number of them leaving the service, a report has claimed.

The advertising campaigns used by the Ministry of Defence "glamorise warfare, omit vital information and fail to point out the risks and responsibilities associated with a forces career", says the study. At the same time, promises made to those joining the ranks are often not kept and the recruits are also not told of their legal rights.

The report, by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, says that recruiters are targeting children as young as seven and points out that the UK is the only EU state to recruit those aged 16. It recommends sweeping changes to the MoD's current policy including a new charter setting out the responsibility of the state; a radical review of recruitment literature; phasing out the recruitment of minors and new rights for recruits to leave the services.

The dossier is said to be the first piece of comprehensive research into the methods used to attract the young to the armed forces and comes at a time when the Army acknowledges it is facing serious problems retaining its numbers. It follows another report last month which claimed that the Army was losing almost a "battalion a year" due to the use of illegal drugs.

One important factor behind personnel leaving had been the continuous deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report says that "for every two in the 16 to 22 age group joining the Army, one is leaving. In 2007, 48 per cent of all soldiers found army life to be worse than expected. More than 2bn is invested annually in training; most of this is used to train approximately 20,000 new recruits who replace those who leave each year."

The report, Informed Choice? Armed Forces and Recruitment Practices in the UK, says that literature provided by the services "fails to mention that unless they leave within six months of enlisting, minors have no legal right to leave for four years."

There is now a wide range of avenues, from brochures and magazines to CDs and DVDs, for those interested in joining the Army. One particularly successful programme is "Camouflage", aimed at 13 to 17-year-olds, which includes a magazine, website and interactive games. In addition there are services career advisers who visit schools as part of an outreach programme.

The MoD says it does not recruit from schools. The report claims: "The Ministry of Defence's youth policy contradicts this, describing military curricular activities in educational establishments as a 'powerful tool for facilitating recruitment especially if the skills developed through curricular activities have a direct bearing on military requirements'."

The report's author, David Gee, said: "The literature available to the young glamorises the armed services but does little to show the dangers recruits may face and even less the moral dilemmas they may face.

A MoD spokeswoman said: "We welcome any report that contributes to serious debate on the armed forces. However, some of these assertions are incorrect and ill-informed, others are selective in their interpretation of recruitment practices and some of the evidence is out of date. Our recruitment practices avoid 'glamorising war' and we refute any allegations that they depict warfare as 'game-like'."