New report on the Recruitment of Children by the UK Armed Forces


Medact’s new report on the long-term impacts of the British military’s recruitment of children under the age of 18, presents evidence linking ‘serious health concerns’ with the policy, and calls for a rise in the minimum recruitment age.

The report’s findings include:

  • Child recruits are more vulnerable to PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to adult recruits.
  • Military recruitment marketing takes advantage of adolescent cognitive and psychosocial vulnerabilities.
  • The current practices for recruiting children in to the British armed forces do not meet the criteria for full and informed consent.
  • Those recruited as children, upon turning 18, are more likely than adult recruits to end up in frontline combat roles which carry greater risks than other roles.

The UK is one only a handful of countries worldwide to still allow recruitment from age 16, a policy which has been strongly criticised by multiple UN and UK parliamentary bodies, child rights organisations and human rights groups.

The report’s release coincided with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s announcement of further expansions in cadet army units in state schools at the Conservative Party Conference. While the government argues that its Cadet Expansion Programme helps raise pupils’ attainment; campaigners have expressed fears that the cadet units in schools act as a channel of recruitment into the armed forces, and that military activities for children as young as twelve are inappropriate for the education environment.

Dr David McCoy, Director of Medact, said:

“There is strong evidence that children recruited into the armed forces are placed at an increased risk of long-term harm when compared to adult recruits. There are also reasons to believe that the full and informed consent of these children is not always gained. Minimum age laws exist to protect children from smoking, drinking, driving and watching violent films. It’s time for the UK to fall in step with the vast majority of countries and raise the minimum recruitment age to 18.”

Ben Griffin, founder of Veterans for Peace UK, also commented:

“I am concerned that those recruited into the armed forces as children are more likely to die or be injured in action, and more at risk of mental health illnesses, than adult recruits. This report convincingly argues against the recruitment of children and sends a clear message to the health community that they must speak out against this dangerous and outdated practice.”

Medact released its report on Tuesday 18 October at a public event at Brighton University, with speakers from Medact, Veterans for Peace and Child Soldiers International.