Health professionals call for an end to the recruitment of children by the UK armed forces

In response to a new report, published this week by Veterans for Peace UK, exploring the effects army training and employment has on new recruits, Medact, the non-profit advocacy organisation for healthcare professionals, calls for an end to the recruitment of children by the UK armed forces.

In the report, titled The First Ambush? Effects of Army Training and Employment, researcher David Gee argues that the health risks associated with an armed forces career are considerably greater for those recruited under the age of 18.

The UK is the only country in the EU which routinely recruits 16-year-olds to its armed forces.

Not even the US recruits 16-year-olds, and only 3% of US recruits are aged 17.(1)

“Recruiting children to the military is evidently a harmful and outdated practice. Young recruits, usually from poorer backgrounds, are lured in with a romanticised notion of army life as adventurous, heroic and lucrative” said Feryal Awan, Research and Advocacy Manager at Medact. But once enrolled they’re exposed in their training to a culture vastly different to their expectations.” 

“Although dominant military discourse suggests that the youngest and most disadvantaged are positioned to gain the most from training, Gee evidences that poverty is a direct correlate of the behaviours most associated with dropping out of training.” said Adrienne Milner, Lecturer at the Centre for Primary Care & Public Health Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London.

“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child rules out recruitment of children (below 18 years) to the armed forces. Enlistment tends to disrupt the personal and socioeconomic development of young people, jeopardises their health and wellbeing, and exacerbates prior antisocial behaviour. Child recruits are more vulnerable to Post- traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to adult recruits. It’s time for the UK to end the outdated practice of enlisting children into the armed forces and raise the minimum recruitment age to 18,” said Tony Waterston MD FRCPCH, Retired Consultant Paediatrician and Senior Lecturer in Child Health.

This Medact campaign is supported by clinicians and paediatricians including: Professor David Southall, Honorary Medical Director, Maternal and Childhealth; Tony Waterston MD FRCPCH, Retired Consultant Paediatrician and Senior Lecturer in Child Health; Julie Lloyd, Principal Clinical Psychologist and Cognitive Analytic Therapist, Surrey and Borders NHS Trust and Southern health NHS Trust; Elizabeth Waterston, Retired GP; Daniel Flecknoe, Specialty Registrar in Public Health, Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust​.

 – ENDS   –


Contact Feryal Awan –  [email protected]

  1. CNA (2015). ‘Table B-1. Non-Prior Service (NPS) Active Component Enlisted Accessions, FY15: by Service, Gender, and Age with Civilian Comparison Group’. Retrieved April 1, 2017, from

Medact is a non-profit organisation and registered charity for and of health professionals. Its current director is Dr David McCoy, a public health physician and academic.

Medact was formed in 1992 following the merger of Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW) and the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW). Following the merger of these not-for-profit medical peace organisations, Medact broadened its mission to include the health threats posed by climate change and economic inequality.

Our areas of work are spread across four main areas: Peace and Human Security, Climate and Ecology, Economic Justice and Health and Human Rights.