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Age and the UK armed forces: A legal challenge

by on October 9, 2014

This is a very different context to most of the material we read and report on but it is absolutely on topic as an ‘age at work’ issue. Yesterday’s Independent reported here that the Ministry of Defence faces a legal challenge over its recruitment of child soldiers.

The term ‘child soldiers’ conjures up images of very young boys holding guns almost as tall as them, mostly in war torn countries. So it’s a shock both to see the UK’s armed forces recruits conceptualised in this way and indeed to see that the UK has recruits as young as 16. This is out of step with the rest of Europe and public opinion in the UK is apparently strongly against the practice. The policy is that recruits under 18 are not deployed in operations though the personal account of one young recruit that appears at the end of the article suggests this does not prevent significant psychological damage once deployed at age 18.

The claim for judicial review is brought by the charity Child Soldiers International (CSI) which says that the terms of enlistment for minors joining the British Army amounts to age discrimination. This is because British soldiers currently have to serve until they are 22 regardless of their joining age: a 16-year-old recruit must serve a minimum of six years whereas adults can be discharged after four years’ service.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the legal challenge can be pursued and/or whether campaigning publicity by various charities together with public opinion bring about a change in policy.

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