Quakers seek ‘care’ for youth army recruits

Quakers in Britain have called for the UK’s duty of care to its armed forces to include the provision of right of discharge for under eighteen year olds. 
They are supporting a New Clause amending the Armed Forces Bill. (New Clause seven.) The amendment tabled by Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, will entitle under eighteen year olds to leave the armed forces by giving just two weeks’ notice.  
The UK is the only European country to recruit into the regular army at sixteen and is the only country on the UN Security Council to do so. After six months there is no discharge as of right. These recruits may be held to their commitment for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday.
“Quaker commitment to equality and to peace impels us to call for a change in the law regarding under eighteens in the army,” says Michael Bartlet, parliamentary liaison secretary for Quakers in Britain. “A statutory duty of care to the armed forces needs to include a right of discharge for all under eighteens. A sixteen year old joining the army is still legally a child, too young to vote or to have any say over how the army may be used. Yet they can make a decision, which binds them for four years beyond their eighteenth birthday.” 
Although the British parliament’s Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill has completed its scrutiny of the Bill, it has done nothing to address the anomaly that requires junior soldiers to make longer commitments than those joining as adults. Sixteen year olds joining the Armed Forces are required to serve for six years while those joining at eighteen are required to serve for four. After an initial six months they have no discharge as of right. 
Ministry of Defence figures suggest that there are currently 580 sixteen year olds and 1,970 seventeen year olds serving in the armed forces. According to Forces Watch, an increase in the minimum recruitment age to 18 has been recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and by Parliament’s own Joint Human Rights Committee.  It is also supported by Forces Watch, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the Children’s Society and Quakers in Britain.

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