MP urges Government to stop enlisting children

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Liz Saville Roberts MP will today lead a debate in Westminster Hall urging the UK Government to review the minimum age at which a person can be enlisted to the armed forces.

Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Liz Saville Roberts, will argue that the Ministry of Defence has failed to answer concerns relating to “fundamental standards of welfare and protection”.

A report published by health charity, Medact, in October found that child recruits are more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide and death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to either their demographically-matched civilian peers or adult recruits.

Ms Saville Roberts will also criticise the Ministry of Defence for offering qualifications to young recruits that the Department for Education considers to “suffer from major and fundamental flaws”, arguing that young soldiers deserve the same educational opportunities as their civilian friends.

Numerous international bodies have condemned the United Kingdom for its policy of enlisting children including the United Nations, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and UNICEF.

Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Liz Saville Roberts, will say in the debate:

“I have sought this debate because I am concerned about the welfare of young people who join the armed forces. Some believe that any questioning of armed forces’ or Ministry of Defence policy is somehow an “attack” on the institution as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“It is not ‘attacking the army’ to express a desire that soldiers be treated well, and treated fairly, and that their short and long-term welfare is considered a priority in the recruitment and training process.

“Dozens of religious, military, legal and policy organisations alongside unions and trusted military professionals have expressed concerns about this policy, including the United Nations, UNICEF and others.

“Often the argument is made by those who themselves were recruited as a child, that they had a happy experience of military service decades ago and although I respect the insight that the personal experiences of many can give to this debate, the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘facts’.

“The UK is almost unique in the developed world in enlisting 16 year olds into its armed forces. It is the only member of the UN Security Council, the only member of NATO and the only member of the European Union that recruits children. This is not standard practice, it is not a necessity, and it is not a policy shared by our military allies and peers. Our contemporaries when it comes to this practice are North Korea and Iran.

“A 16 year old cannot buy a kitchen knife in a shop, but they can be taught to kill with a bayonet. They can enlist and train in the Army, but the law states that they cannot play ‘Call of Duty’ on a games console.

“The Ministry of Defence likes to advertise the fact that it offers an education to young people. They claim that the qualifications it offers - Functional Skills – are equivalent to GCSEs, but in fact they were described as ‘suffering from major and fundamental flaws’ by the Department for Education’s own expert review on vocational education. Young soldiers deserve at the very minimum the same educational opportunities as their civilian friends, and certainly not less.

“Research clearly shows that child recruits are more vulnerable than either their demographically-matched civilian peers or adult recruits, to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse and even committing suicide.

“It must now become a matter of urgency for the UK to review its policy on enlisting children.”

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