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British army used Facebook adverts to recruit 'stressed' teenagers on GCSE results day, charity claims

 'No matter what your results will be, you can still improve yourself in the army,' one advert from 2015 reads

Oliver Wheaton
Saturday 09 June 2018 16:25 BST
The MoD has been increasing the number of paid-for social media adverts used in recent years
The MoD has been increasing the number of paid-for social media adverts used in recent years (Reuters)

The British Army has been criticised for using social media to suggest to teenagers on GCSE results day that a career in the armed forces was still available to them if they didn’t get good exam results.

Child Soldiers International have revealed that the MoD used paid-for Facebook adverts to target to 16-year-olds.

The charity claimed that the advertising campaign was preying on young people at “times of great stress“ when students are worried about their future.

One advert, which ran just before GCSE results day in August 2015 read: “No matter what your results will be, you can still improve yourself in the army.”

Rachel Taylor, the director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, said: ”The MoD continues to target teenagers to fix the recruitment shortfall and this is another example of their strategy to recruit at the youngest possible age.

“Explicitly doing so around GCSE results day is exploitative and preys on those who may be panicking after getting disappointing results in their exams. The MoD should be enforcing the policy of successive governments to support the most disadvantaged teenagers to succeed academically, gaining at least a grade C GCSE in English and maths, including through resits if necessary.

“It should not be exploiting the disappointment of the most vulnerable teens. The answer to these issues is not underage enlistment, it is proper state investment in a full range of educational and training opportunities for all.”

Ms Taylor claimed that raising the age of recruitment would not deter people from joining the army, suggesting that ”raising the enlistment age to 18 does not deny anyone the opportunity to join the armed forces if they wish to do so, just as nobody is denied the opportunity to join the police, the fire service or ambulance service which all have a minimum age of 18 or higher”.

The targetted adverts came to light after Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts issued a PQ requesting information on “each social media asset used in paid campaigns” by the British Army.

The UK is one of only 46 countries who recruit under-18s and the only European state which allow people to join the army at 16.

While British soldiers can not to be sent to war zones until they are 18 years old, Child Soldiers International claim 16- and 17-year-old soldiers have a higher incidence of mental health and behavioural problems than older recruits.

The charity found that between the years of 2015 and 2017 the MoD ran 578 recruitment paid-for adverts on Facebook.

A British Army spokesperson said: “As the UK’s largest provider of apprenticeships the army is proud to offer all education leavers the opportunity to better themselves while enjoying an army career.

“It should be no surprise that, like most major employers, our recruitment campaigns applies some focus on individuals leaving school, college and university, as this is when they make career decisions.”

Last year Child Soldiers International obtained a document which showed the British Army were specifically targetting young people from working-class backgrounds in a recruitment drive.

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