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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - United Kingdom

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - United Kingdom, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 59.7 million (13.1 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 191,000
Compulsary Recruitment Age: No conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 16
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 24 June 2003
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC

The UK appeared to intensify its efforts to recruit under-18s with a range of recruitment methods during the reporting period, at the same time strengthening safeguards for their protection.


In March 2007 the last remaining UK forces were withdrawn from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but sizeable contingents continued to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. As of 5 September 2007, a total of 76 British Forces personnel or Ministry of Defence (MoD) civilians had died while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November 2001. As of 9 August 2007, a total of 168 British Armed Forces personnel or MoD civilians had died in Iraq (during Operation TELIC) since the start of the campaign in March 2003.1


National recruitment legislation and practice

There was no conscription into the UK armed forces and no statutory minimum age for recruitment. In November 2006 the government replaced separate disciplinary legislation covering the armed forces with a new Armed Forces Act,2 which, while providing for the drawing up of regulations regarding enlistment and terms and conditions of enlistment and service by the Defence Council, failed to include a statutory minimum age for enlistment.

In practice, enlistment for "non-officers" was not permitted until the age of 16, although application could be made up to five months previously in the case of the army and up to three months previously for the navy and the air force. Officers could be recruited into the navy from the age of 17, into the air force from 17 and a half, and into the army from 17 years and 9 months. The minimum enlistment age to the army's Brigade of Gurkhas was 17 and a half on 31 January of the year following enlistment.3 Entry into the Territorial Army, which operated on a part-time basis, was from age 17 for both soldiers and officers.4 All three services required parental or guardian consent for those enlisting below the age of 18.

As at 1 April 2007 there were 1,000 non-officer members of the regular forces aged 16, and 3,470 aged 17; 355 of these were female. The majority of under-18s were members of the army, with far fewer in the navy and the air force.5

In its initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, the government argued that "To be unable to recruit from this age group would mean that high quality school leavers would settle into other careers and thus be lost to the Services. This would create serious manning problems for the Armed Forces since 30% of all recruits in 2006/07 were aged under 18. The Services, in particular the Army, would be unable to man current structures and maintain current capabilities."6 Reflecting this position, the government resisted calls made by the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC – see below) to consider raising the minimum recruitment age to 18.7

In ratifying the Optional Protocol, the government stated that safeguards to protect under-18s were maintained by informing the potential recruit about the nature of military duties, ensuring that the decision to enlist was voluntary, and obtaining free and informed parental consent. Doubts about the effectiveness of some of these safeguards were expressed, particularly in relation to the army. Reports by the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI)8 on armed services training published in 2005 and 2007 spoke of recruitment practices being "overzealous" and contributing to a "very high drop-out rate"9 and of recruitment procedures and materials which "sometimes mislead", with some recruits reporting that they had been steered into trades for which they were unsuited or had little interest, but where shortages existed.10

In the case of all three services, recruits, regardless of age, were not permitted to leave during the first 28 days of duty. They could then exercise "discharge as of right" and leave within the first six months.11 After the expiration of the "discharge as of right" period, under-18 recruits to the army had no legal right to be transferred to the reserve until the age of 22, for which 12 months' notice had to be given.12 The normal procedure was for all new recruits to enlist for a 22-year "open engagement". Those ending their (regular) service before the completion of this period were required to serve in the army reserve for the balance of the 22 years or for a period of six years, whichever was less.13 Armed forces personnel under the age of 18 years and 3 months could also apply for discretionary permission to leave before their eighteenth birthday if they were "genuinely unhappy". The government itself acknowledged that this did not offer "discharge as of right".14 Terms of service for all three services were complicated and potentially confusing for new recruits, especially those under 18 with low educational attainment.15

Those undertaking specialist employment training in all three services were required to waive their right to give 12 months' notice to terminate their contracts after the minimum required period of service, which could mean the deferment of their ability to transfer to the reserve.16 Set against this, recruitment literature aimed at school leavers stressed opportunities for gaining educational and vocational qualifications without referring explicitly to the resulting obligation to remain in the services for longer periods. In concluding that recruitment to the army should remain open to 16- and 17-year-olds, the Deepcut Review (see below) highlighted the benefits to some young people of training opportunities offered by the armed forces, commenting on the lack of opportunity for less educationally inclined 16-year-olds in the UK.17

In 2005 ALI commented that the "early drop-out is very high, varying from about 15 per cent for the Royal Air Force to 47 per cent in the Royal Marines", with more than a third of all entrants dropping out during the initial training period in the army.18

The primary target group for the armed forces' promotional activity was children and adolescents. A National Audit Office report published in November 2006 noted that the services were "developing their youth strategies in order to raise awareness at an earlier age to secure similar levels of recruitment from a smaller target population". There were concerns that those non-officer recruits who were of low educational attainment and from poor communities19 were joining as a last resort and for other negative reasons, including the lack of civilian career options in their particular communities.20

The Ministry of Defence Armed Forces Youth Policy, aiming to promote the reputation of the armed forces and improve recruitment, had a particular focus on young people at risk of social exclusion.21 The MoD and the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales in late 2004 launched a joint pilot program of courses which did not involve military training, but offered challenging outdoor activities and development of teamwork, leadership and self-esteem. Those successfully completing the program were to be referred to local cadet forces,22 which were not part of the armed forces but were sponsored by the MoD and said to be at the core of the Youth Policy.23

Boys and girls aged between ten and 18 could join either the combined cadet force (CCF) units based in schools24 or cadet forces for the separate services linked to an establishment of one of the regular or reserve armed forces.25 The most recent Army Continuous Attitude Survey showed that 22 per cent of serving soldiers and 50 per cent of serving officers had been part of a cadet organization.26

Military training and military schools

In the case of the army, most 16-year-olds were enlisted through "junior entry" and then underwent phase 1 training of between 14 weeks and a year for a general introduction to military life, including drill. They were then sent to phase 2 establishments, where they were trained and lived alongside older trainees for technical and professional training. Phase 2 training could last between a few weeks and up to a year for more specialist training. Those recruited at 17, but also some aged 16 (all generally referred to as "single entry" recruits), were trained by the Army Training Regiment alongside adult recruits at a number of other establishments.27 Recruits to the army with specific qualifications could also enlist as apprentices in the Technical Corps between the ages of 16 and 17, training in a range of trades over a period of a year or more. Enlistment as an apprentice was on the same terms as for ordinary recruits, with a commitment to serve a minimum of four years from the age of 18. Students were paid during training.28 Periods of training for under-18s in the navy and air force varied according to chosen career paths.

There were no schools operated by or under the control of the armed forces, but the Defence Sixth Form College in Leicestershire, specifically aimed at recruiting and training engineers for the armed forces, was established by the MoD and was overseen by the Defence Academy.29 While there was no legal obligation to join the armed forces on completing their studies, parents of students who did not do so were required to repay a contribution towards teaching costs.30

Child recruitment and deployment

The government stated that due to periods of recruit training, the number of under-18s joining the "trained strength" of the armed forces and liable for employment in military operations was "small". On 1 April 2007 the total "trained strength" of under-18s was said to be 730 individuals – 0.5% of the total trained strength of the armed forces. Very few of these under-18s were said to be posted to higher-readiness (i.e. "frontline") units, and the likelihood of under-18s taking a direct part in hostilities was therefore said to be "very small".31 In March 2006 the Deepcut Review (see below), while stopping short of recommending a ban on the recruitment of under-18s into the army, recommended that phase 1 and 2 training should be such that no recruit joined their unit until they reached the age of 18.32 In its June 2006 response to the Review, the government indicated that the possibility of ensuring that trainees reached the age of 18 before being posted to their units was being considered.33

On signing the Optional Protocol in September 2000 the government had made a declaration reserving the right to deploy members of its armed forces under the age of 18 to take a direct part in hostilities where "there is a genuine military need to deploy their unit or ship to an area in which hostilities are taking place; and ... by reason of the nature and urgency of the situation ... it is not practicable to withdraw such persons before deployment; or ... to do so would undermine the operational effectiveness of their ship or unit, and thereby put at risk the successful completion of the military mission and/or the safety of other personnel". Personnel under 18 were not to be deployed on UN peacekeeping operations in line with UN policy.34

The government reported in June 2007 that 18 personnel aged under 18 had been deployed into "areas where they may be exposed to hostilities" since the signing of the Optional Protocol in 2003, but none since July 2005. The government further indicated that at least 15 of these were 17-year-olds who had been deployed to Iraq between 2003 and 2005, four of them were female and the vast majority were deployed within a week of their eighteenth birthdays or were removed from theatre within a week of their arrival. Only four under-18s were said to have been deployed for a period of greater than two or three weeks.35

Treatment of child recruits

The fallout from the deaths of four soldiers at the Deepcut army barracks in Surrey between 1995 and 2002, two of whom were aged 17, continued. In March 2005 the House of Commons Defence Committee published its report into the MoD's "duty of care" in armed forces' training establishments. The Committee found that the armed forces had failed to supervise adequately young recruits and noted the lack of an independent complaints procedure for abuse victims. It recommended that the MoD formulate a policy for the care of under-18s as if it acted in loco parentis.36 Policy guidelines were subsequently issued by the MoD in July 2005 and revised and reissued in March 2007, but these made it clear that "duty of care" responsibilities arose from the employment of under-18s and not from acting in loco parentis.37 The "duty of care" report also raised concerns about the lack of checks on the suitability of those supervising under-18s at training establishments, recommending that Criminal Records Bureau and military service checks should be made before appointing such supervisors.38 In October 2004 a former training instructor at Deepcut was jailed for a number of indecent assaults on young soldiers between 1992 and 1997. His victims were reported to have been aged between 17 and 21.39

The Deepcut Review, established in December 2004 to review the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the four soldiers, was published in March 2006.40 It concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, the deaths of three of the soldiers41 were self-inflicted and that bullying, ill-treatment or sexual harassment did not cause their deaths (although the Review identified "low morale" among recruits as a problem), but that the opportunity for self-infliction was afforded by a policy of frequently assigning unsupervised phase 2 trainees to armed guard duty at Deepcut. The Review recommended that the appropriate minimum age for armed guard duty (outside the context of training that was directly supervised by an experienced adult soldier) should be 18 throughout the armed forces.42 The Review also made a number of recommendations about the training of under-18s and the need for special measures to be taken to protect their welfare.

In March 2007 ALI published its second report following its inspections of training methods in the armed services which had begun in 2004. The report talked of "substantial improvements" since its previous inspections.43

Detention of suspected child soldiers

In 2006 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) registered 59 children in detention during 16 visits to five places of detention or internment in Iraq controlled by the UK or the United States (USA).44 However, the UK authorities claimed that as of October 2005 they were not holding any women or children in detention.45 The government issued directions to its armed forces on the treatment of prisoners of war, internees and detainees in May 2006, with a chapter on the treatment of juveniles and children which clarified that the policy was to transfer prisoners who were or were believed to be juveniles to the ICRC as quickly as practicable.46


The UK government continued to incorporate the issue of children in armed conflict in their foreign policy commitments. The Department for International Development (DfID) financed a number of projects for children affected by armed conflict, with a particular focus on programs concerned with demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers into their communities.47

At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, the UK and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

1 Ministry of Defence, "Operations in Iraq: British fatalities", defence fact sheet, These figures include those killed in action and those who died as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accident.

2 Armed Forces Act 2006, c. 52.

3 As set out in British Gurkhas Nepal Standing Instruction No.5.01, para 12. Gurkha recruits undertook a 39-week basic training package.

4 Army Jobs, "Entry requirements",

5 Defence Analytical Services Agency, TSP 08, "Age distribution: UK regular male/female other ranks by age and service", Note that the figures refer to UK regular forces and do not include Gurkhas or the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment.

6 Initial periodic report of the UK to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/GBR/1, 3 September 2007.

7 House of Commons Defence Committee's Third Report of Session 2004-05, "Duty of Care",

8 ALI, a non-departmental public body, became part of the new Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (OFSTED) in April 2007.

9 ALI, "Safer training", March 2005,

10 ALI, "Better training", March 2007,

11 Army Terms of Service (Amendment) Regulations 1999 (SI No.1610), Regulation 7A(2); Royal Navy Terms of Service (Ratings) Regulations 2006, Regulation 7 (SI No. 2918); Royal Air Force Terms of Service Regulations 2007, Regulation 8; all at

12 This "notice period" of four years, required in order to transfer to the reserve while serving a 22-year term, was available to all recruits regardless of age (Regulation 5 of the Army Terms of Service Regulations 1992 (SI No.1365), as amended by the Army Terms of Service (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 1999 (SI No.2764)), but the notice period could not begin until a recruit had reached the age of 18, thereby making the minimum term of service for 16-year-old recruits six years followed by a period of six years' service in the reserve.

13 Regulation 12, Army Terms of Service Regulations 1992 (SI No.1365).

14 Initial periodic report, above note 6.

15 For Terms of Service see above note 11.

16 Army Terms of Service Regulations 1992 (SI No.1365), Regulation 11, restricted rights to transfer to the reserve, as well as other perceived "benefits", to those undergoing training of anything more than two weeks. A course lasting more than three months could invite a restriction of the right to be transferred to the reserve before the expiry of up to six years. Similar restrictions existed under Regulation 12 of the Royal Air Force Terms of Service Regulations 2007, and Regulation 5 of the Royal Navy Terms of Service (Ratings) Regulations 2006.

17 Nicholas Blake QC, The Deepcut Review: a review of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut, between 1995 and 2002, March 2006,

18 "Safer training", above note 9.

19 Up to 50 per cent of recruits were reported to have literacy and numeracy skills at Entry Level 3 (equivalent to those of an average 11-year-old) or Entry Level 2 (equivalent to an average 7-year-old). House of Commons Defence Committee, "Duty of care",

20 David Gee, Informed choice? Armed forces recruitment practice in the United Kingdom, November 2007,

21 MoD, "Strategy for delivery of MOD youth initiatives", paper by Directorate of Reserve Forces and Cadets, April 2005,

22 Youth Justice Board News, No. 25 (November 2004),

23 MOD,

24 Minimum ages were: Sea Cadet Corps – 12 years (with some units having junior sections for 10-12-year-olds), Army Cadet Force – 13 years, Air Training Corps – 13 years. Of 253 CCF units in operation in July 2006, only 52 were reported to be in state schools, and most of these were grammar schools. In June 2006 the government announced a plan to set up six new CCF units in state schools in "deprived areas". "Gordon Brown wants more children to see the benefits of being a cadet. But is he doing it the best way?", Guardian, 25 July 2006.

25 Defence Analytical Services Agency, UK Defence Statistics 2005,

26 MOD, Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Surveys: Army: Mar – Jul 2006,

27 "Duty of care", above note 19; MoD, Army Jobs, "Soldier training",

28 Army, "Training establishments",

29 The Defence Academy was responsible for postgraduate education and the majority of command, staff, leadership, defence management, acquisition and technology training for members of the UK armed forces and MoD civil servants; See also Ministry of Defence, "Individual Training and Education in the Armed Forces", Policy Paper No.6, 2004,

30 MoD, Army Jobs, "Welbeck – the defence sixth form college",

31 Initial periodic report, above note 6.

32 Deepcut Review, above note 17.

33 MoD, "The government's response to the Deepcut Review", June 2006,

34 Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, 23 February 1999, UN Doc A/AC/121/43; reflected in Policy on the Care of Service Personnel under the Age of 18, provided as Annexure B to the initial periodic report, above note 6. See also the UK's declaration on ratification of the Additional Protocol,; Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Explanatory Memorandum on the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1 February 2003,

35 Communication from the Ministry of Defence to the Child Soldiers Coalition, 7 November 2007.

36 House of Commons Defence Committee's Third Report of Session 2004-05 on "Duty of Care",

37 Policy on the Care of Service Personnel, above note 34.

38 "Duty of care", above note 19.

39 "Deepcut army sex attacker jailed", BBC News, 22 October 2004.

40 Deepcut Review, above note 17.

41 Sean Benton, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray. The inquest into the death of James Collinson was ongoing during the course of the review, and the report therefore did not deal with the particular facts of his death.

42 Deepcut Review, above note 17.

43 "Better training", above note 10.

44 International Committee of the Red Cross, "Iraq", ICRC Annual Report 2006, May 2007,

45 Amnesty International, "Beyond Abu Ghraib: detention and torture in Iraq", March 2006, AI Index MDE 14/001/2006.

46 Joint Doctrine Publication (JDP) 1-10: "Prisoners of war, internees and detainees", Chapter 2B on the treatment of juveniles and children, provided as Annexure J to the initial periodic report, above note 6.

47 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Report 2006,

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