During the First World War, the minimum age for recruitment and conscription was 18 with deployment occurring at the age of 19.
A century later, the United Kingdom is now the only country in the European Union still recruiting from the age of 16, while the Ministry of Defence continues to reject a complete ban on deployment of under 18s.
Research conducted by human rights groups Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch showed that the Ministry of Defence spends around £94 million per year training recruits of 16 and 17 years of age. That budget is nearly twice the amount required to train 18 year olds.
Although The Ministry of Defence denied the results of the reports and its calculations before insisting that those minors can’t join the army without the written consent of a parent; it costs an estimated £88,985 to recruit, train and pay new soldiers that are still between the age of 16 and 18 compared to the £ 42,818 it takes for each adult recruit.
Rachel Taylor from Child Soldiers International, has worked extensively with UN human rights bodies, national governments, judicial bodies and law enforcement agencies to promote the implementation of human rights law, describes why recruiting minors is a mistake. She said:
“We have seen that soldiers who are recruited below the age of 18 in the UK have a higher rate of trouble within the armed forces and after they have been discharged. They have higher rates of suicide, alcoholism; they are more likely to be killed in action and more likely to become unemployed when they leave the armed forces.”
In response to whether at the age of 16, one is truly aware of what they are really signing up for by joining the army, she adds:
“They didn’t really understand the complexity of the legal contracts they were signing; the decision they were making or have a very realistic idea of what life in the armed forces would really be like. Some felt like they had been misled by the recruitment material, the advertising and the things they had been told at the recruitment offices.”
Taylor goes on to explain that the UK wouldn’t be majorly affected if they chose to raise the recruitment age:
“Our intelligence shows that the recruitment age can be changed to 18 without any detrimental impact on the staff of the armed forces. If they transfer their focus from recruiting minors to recruiting adults, they can recruit all the soldiers they need which would help the recruitment crisis because they will have more money to spend on adult recruits; recruits who are likely to make it through training and stay in the armed forces afterwards.”
The Human rights groups aren’t the only ones demanding the recruiting of minors to end, The church of Scotland and the Bishops of the Church are also included in those who have signed an open letter asking for the practice to end as a “ fitting memorial” to young soldiers killed in the first world war.
The ministry of defence has agreed to conduct a review in this critical matter leading Taylor to believe there could be changes on the horizon:
“We conducted a survey last year that demonstrated that the majority of the UK population supported augmenting the recruitment age to 18 or above. They have realised that it’s costing them more money to recruit minors than adults however, we also have the support of the major political parties in implementing some kind of change in this area.”
With irrefutable proof that the Army is wasting far too much money recruiting minors who seem to take longer developing their skills and end up having a higher drop-out rate, it appears Britain can only benefit from changing the recruitment age. Only time will tell if the Government is willing to make the change necessary to make the country safer.
This article was originally produced for Gen Y Times.