A report prepared by the public health charity Medcat has concluded that the recruitment policy of the armed forces is putting lives at risk.
The report found that those service personnel recruited as children (i.e. under the age of 18) were more vulnerable to PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during the course of their career.
The UK is the only country in Europe and the only permanent member of the UN Security Council to still allow recruitment from the age of 16. This policy has been strongly criticised by UN and UK parliamentary bodies, child rights organisations and human rights groups.
The report highlights two main concerns:
- That those recruited into the armed forces as children have a greater chance of being deployed on the frontline and suffering from long-term physical and mental health problems when compared to those recruited as adults.
- That the current practices of the UK armed forces for recruiting children do not met the criteria for ‘voluntary and informed consent’.
Dr David McCoy, Director of Medact, said:
“There is strong evidence that children recruited into the armed forces are placed at an increased risk of long-term harm when compared to adult recruits. There are also reasons to believe that the full and informed consent of these children is not always gained. Minimum age laws exist to protect children from smoking, drinking, driving and watching violent films. It’s time for the UK to fall in step with the vast majority of countries and raise the minimum recruitment age to 18.”
The report comes after numerous calls for the recruitment age to be raised. It follows on from research conducted by Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch which found that in Afghanistan British soldiers who enlisted at 16 were approximately twice as likely to be killed or injured when compared with soldiers who enlisted when they were over 18. There was also a greater risk of them suffering from traumatic stress-related psychiatric disorders.
A career in the military can bring many great benefits, both financial and social, as well as discipline and structure for many young people looking to make a career for themselves.
However, it is clear from the evidence that more needs to be done to ensure that young people are protected both in terms of their physical and mental health. The Ministry of Defence needs to review its recruitment practices, to limit the risk of ongoing health issues to young service personnel, who are less experienced and may be unable at that early stage to deal with the rigours and trauma of military life. Importantly, those who sacrifice their youth to serve should not be left to suffer.