British government recruits child soldiers

This video is called Going Underground: UK’s child soldiers & taxing times for Boots.

By Steven Walker in Britain:

The shame of British child soldiers

Saturday 18th january 2014

The army’s policy of recruiting 16-year-olds is misguided and fraught with negative social consequences, writes STEVEN WALKER

How embarrassing for war minister – sorry, Defence Secretary – Philip Hammond that the MoD announces a failure to recruit enough soldiers as he preens himself ready for the first world war’s 100th anniversary commemorations.

Usually in years of high unemployment the army loves the chance to soak up numbers of people with very few options. The capitalist media treats this news in a superficial way, but look harder and there are some quite rational reasons why young people do not relish an army career.

For example, less attention has been paid to the British armed forces’ attitude to using under-18-year-olds in armed conflict and their vulnerability to developing serious mental health problems.

According to MoD research, young soldiers are three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts.

Britain recruits 16-year-old children to all three branches of the military, the only European country to do so.

There are clear contradictions in the British government’s use of minors with its legal obligations under the 1992 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the 1989 Children Act to protect and safeguard children.

The Ministry of Defence has ensured that the needs of military power and political control override the best interests of those under-18s in the armed forces. Article 38 of the CRC emphasises the particular vulnerability of children as civilians and soldiers and recommends signatories refrain from sending children into battle.

It recognises that children’s rights are particularly vulnerable to violation during armed conflict and lays down specific obligations on the state to protect children caught up in situations of war.

If the non-deployment of personnel under the recommended CRC minimum ages would “destabilise” the unit that they are part of, then the MoD reserves the right to deploy younger recruits.

The government claims that once children are trained in the armed forces they are considered to be professionals and are treated as such. They play an important role in their unit, and their removal would undermine the effectiveness and cohesiveness of the unit.

This would be demoralising and unpopular among other soldiers and add to the training burden.

The World Health Organisation recognises that young soldiers exposed to conflict situations can more easily develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) leading to persisting patterns of problematic behaviour and functioning.

As numerous research studies have now proven, these problems may not emerge until years later or after the symptoms are revealed by alcohol, domestic violence, self-harm and/or substance abuse.

Many young soldiers may be withdrawn, depressed, go awol and display difficulties in social relationships.

Children deployed in Northern Ireland, the Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq have had to undergo very traumatic experiences such as removing the bodies of dead soldiers they had just shot at, some of whom were not older than 12 years, or dealing with women and young girls who were rape victims.

Demographic profiles indicate that the majority of army recruits are from poorer socio-economic groups where it is known that a higher proportion of children and young people are at greater risk of developing mental health problems.

The British army encourages recruitment at low income, high unemployment, disadvantaged areas where children with few academic or career prospects are able to sign up to six-year minimum service contracts at 16 years of age seduced by glamorous images of travel, adventure, machismo, and employable skills training.

The adverse publicity over the culture of bullying and suicides at military training establishments such as Deep Cut revealed a tiny, previously hidden, glimpse of what many vulnerable young people may also be subjected to on a routine basis once they enter service.

Combined with more frequent deployment into war-fighting zones it is no wonder that the charity Combat Stress has called PTSD a “ticking time-bomb” among ex-soldiers.

Since 1971, 24 children have died and 10 been seriously physically injured while on active military service in the British army. The MoD requires a yearly recruitment of under-18s of about one third of the annual intake into the armed forces.

While it says under-18s are not deployed to combat zones, ministers’ responses to parliamentary questions over the past two decades have shown that around 50 under-18s were involved in peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, for example, while BBC reports in 2002 suggested that under-18s had had to be removed from a contingent in Afghanistan.

It seems that in 2014, ironically, young people are much wiser than politicians and war-mongers assume, and perhaps they have learned the real lesson of history – make peace not war.

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