• March 1, 2015


The Celtic League has raised the issue of the recruitment of children below the age of 18 years by the British Armed Forces with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The UK has in the past been criticised for this policy. The League say the policy may also breach International Labour Conventions on the employment of Children.

“The Secretariat

Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Human Rights Treaties Division (HRTD)
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson – 52, rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva (Switzerland)

12th February 2015

Dear Sir,

As you are aware the Celtic League has forwarded concerns to you about the operation of the military cadet forces by the United Kingdom and the inherent dangers to the welfare of children attracted into these cadet forces. We have highlighted both physical and sexual abuse cases and also the fact that the United Kingdom government has paid considerable sums of money in out of court settlements to resolve litigation. In our view this decision by the United Kingdom was prompted more by a desire to ‘hush-up’ scandal surrounding its cadet forces than any concern for the victims.

There is a much wider problem however in that the UK armed forces recruit to their regular forces persons below the age of 18 years. We understand this has been the subject of concerns expressed by the United Nations in relation to the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict:

“Voluntary recruitment
The Committee notes that, according to the State party’s declaration under article 3 made upon ratification, the minimum age for voluntary recruitment is 16 years and regrets the fact that the State party indicates that there are no plans to change this.

The Committee encourages the State party to consider reviewing its position and raise the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces to 18 years in order to promote the protection of children through an overall higher legal standard. In the meantime, the Committee recommends that, in recruiting among those persons who have not yet attained the age of 18, priority is given to those who are the oldest.

The Committee notes the State party’s position that, “in order to compete in an increasingly competitive employment market, the British Armed Forces need to attract young people aged 16 and above into pursuing a career in the armed forces” (State party report (para.18). The Committee is however concerned that:

Figures given by the State party show that recruits under the age of 18 represent approximately 32 percent of the total intake of United Kingdom Regular Armed Forces;
The active recruitment policy may lead to the possibility of targeting those children who come from vulnerable groups;

Parents and/or guardians are only involved at the final stage of the recruitment process to give their consent.

The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces and ensure that it does not occur in a manner which specifically targets ethnic minorities and children of low-income families;
(b) Ensure that parents are included from the outset and during the entire process of recruitment and enlistment.”

The enquiry into the deaths of recruits at the (now closed) Deepcut Army barracks also observed:

“The age of recruitment

12.36 There is a case for restricting the recruitment of soldiers into the Army to those who are over 18 on enlistment or commencement of training. There is simplicity about such a proposal that makes it attractive. Problems of access to alcohol or in loco parentis welfare obligations to trainees40 would be replaced by a single duty of care – to protect soldiers from foreseeable harm not inherently connected to their role as soldiers. Although being over 18 is no guarantee of individual maturity, it is the formal moment of transition from the status of minor to adult. It could be argued that employment in the Army, with its particular features, is inappropriate for minors.

12.37 The Army in 1993, in its consideration of Single Entry and, more recently, in the Deputy Adjutant General’s interim report in October 2002, was unwilling to lose the capacity to recruit those under 18. There is no doubt that such a move would diminish the present ability of the Army to recruit the numbers it needs to perform the tasks the government asks of it.”

It is clear that the British Armed Forces continue to target young people despite the concerns expressed by the UNCRC and also one of the United Kingdoms own independent enquiries.

We believe that the recruitment of young people under the age of eighteen also conflicts with the United Kingdoms ILO obligations:

‘ILO Convention 138


3. 1. The minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years.

ILO Convention 182

Article 2

For the purposes of this Convention, the term “child” shall apply to all persons under the age of 18.

Article 3 (final para.)

For the purposes of this Convention, the term “the worst forms of child labour” comprises:

work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.’

The Committee will be aware that the Deepcut deaths referenced above are to be the result of further enquiry. However it is clear that a factor in relation to some of the deaths was the immaturity of the young people for the environment they found themselves in.

The British Armed Forces deliberately target young people from deprived backgrounds in some instances concentrating their recruitment efforts in areas where there a lack of career of employment opportunities. Their policies have been criticized by both Teachers organisations and Church groups in the Celtic countries.

I do hope the CRC will continue to press the United Kingdom forcefully to end the practice of recruiting young children under the age of 18.

Yours sincerely,

J B Moffatt (Mr)

Director of Information
Celtic League”

Related internet links:




The report at the last link can be opened in Word or PDF.

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information


(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur).


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

Internet site at:



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