A freedom of information request by Child Soldiers International has revealed that between January 2014 and August 2017, there were 50 cases of alleged violent behaviour made against staff at the Army Foundation College (AFC) in Harrogate, including assault, battery and ill-treatment.
The AFC trains young recruits, aged 16 and 17, to become junior soldiers for the various Corps and Regiments of the Army.
The figures, published in The Guardian, were revealed following the collapse of court proceedings against 16 instructors, all of whom had been accused of abusing recruits in June 2014.
You may be interested to see my blog about those failed proceedings here.
Data obtained, separately, by the MP Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster, has revealed that there have been 50 investigations conducted by the Royal Military Police into staff at the college in the past decade, of which approximately half related to assault or ill-treatment. Allegations were found to be proven in around 15 cases.
Rachel Taylor, the director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, a charity which has campaigned for the minimum age for soldiers to be raised, said:
“It is unimaginable that a sixth-form boarding school could receive 50 formal complaints of violent behaviour by members of staff in the course of three years, and not be shut down or at least subjected to serious external scrutiny.
It takes enormous courage for a teenager to speak out against a superior officer in an intimidating environment where being perceived as weak or disloyal can be grounds for immediate dismissal and there are likely to be many more such incidents which went unrecorded.
These figures show there is either a serious and ongoing problem of abuse, or simply that these adolescents are routinely so unprepared for the reality of army life that they believe they are being assaulted when they are actually undergoing routine training.”
Calls to raise recruitment age
The UK is one of only 19 countries worldwide to recruit 16-year-olds and there have been calls for the age to be increased in line with other EU and NATO member states.
This recent data raises concerns about an apparent lack of safeguarding when it comes to young recruits.
While joining the armed forces can provide invaluable opportunities for young people, it appears as though a terrible price is being paid by some of those who have signed up to serve their country, only to be subjected to abusive and degrading behaviour. Such behaviour would not be tolerated in any civilian company or organisation, nor does it make good soldiers. Steps must now be taken by the MoD to ensure that it is eradicated once and for all.