Cover picture courtesy of PA.
Fewer than 20 countries in the world still allow direct recruitment of 16-year-olds by their armed forces.
The UK is the only major military power, the only country in Europe and the only member of NATO to do this.
Two-thirds of states worldwide now only recruit adults from age 18 into their armed forces.
But is 16 too young to join the Army?
A nationwide survey found 72% of people who expressed a view believed young people should not be able to join the Army until they are 18.
The survey, commissioned by Child Soldiers International, ForcesWatch, Medact and Saville Roberts, also presented that around 10% of those people also said they believe the minimum age should actually be 21.
According to Child Soldiers International, one in three soldiers who join up at 16 or 17 leaves the Army after a few months, resulting in no job and little education
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson said: "Joining the Armed Forces gives young people the opportunity for a great career and we are proud of the opportunities we can offer to recruits.
"We take our duty of care for all personnel extremely seriously and ensure under-18s are not deployed on operations that would expose them to hostilities.”
Even though the minimum age of enlistment is 16, no one under 18 can enlist without parental consent, nor can they be deployed on operations outside of the UK, except where the operation does not involve personnel becoming engaged in or exposed to, hostilities.
Under 18s were used in 1982 in the Falklands War, in the Gulf War between 1990-91 and they were deployed to NATO peacekeeping operations in former Yugoslavia.
The UK committed to stopping routinely deploying individuals under the age of 18 by signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2000.
However, according to Child Soldier International, 22 minors were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2010 - the MoD acknowledged this figure and said the deployment of under 18s had been done in error.
The recruitment process for joining includes steps which are designed to give potential new recruits a chance to see whether the Army is right for them and vice-versa.
These steps include:
- A full medical examination
- Physical and mental tests
- Team exercises to see how you work with other people
- A career discussion
What do you think?
Are younger recruits at higher risk of developing mental health conditions?
The Defence Select Committee has recently urged the MoD to conduct or commission further research into recruits under 18 to determine the extent to which they are at higher risk of developing mental health conditions.
Last week, ForcesWatch said in a press release:
- While limited research and data show mental health in military populations to be broadly the same as in the civilian population, the mental health of the youngest recruits is markedly worse than that of their civilian counterparts.
- The only group of veterans to show higher rates of suicide than the general public were those under the age of 24, who have a risk three times higher than their civilian counterparts.
- Early service leavers (most common among youngest recruits) and young recruits with a lower educational status, in a lower rank and from regions with historic lower social economic status, suffer more from mental ill-health than others in the military population
- The report stresses that military service can have a positive effect on mental health and can help those who were more vulnerable before they joined. However, it admits the military is unlikely to prevent mental health difficulties from developing but rather delays them until after service.
Neighbouring countries recruitment policies:
- France: 18-25 years of age for male and female voluntary military service; no conscription; one-year service obligation; women serve in noncombat posts.
- Spain: 18-26 years of age for voluntary military service by a Spanish citizen or legal immigrant, two to three-year obligation; no conscription, but Spanish Government retains right to mobilize citizens 19-25 years of age in a national emergency.
- Germany:17-23 years of age for male and female voluntary military service; conscription ended 1 July 2011; service obligation eight-23 months or 12 years; women have been eligible for voluntary service in all military branches and positions since 2001.
- Italy: 18-25 years of age for voluntary military service; women may serve in any military branch; Italian citizenship required; one-year service obligation.
- Belgium: 18 years of age for male and female voluntary military service; conscription abolished in 1994.
- Netherlands: 17 years of age for an all-volunteer force.
Other countries around the world that recruit 16-year-olds:
- Bangladesh: 16-19 years of age for voluntary military service; Bangladeshi birth and 10th-grade education required; initial obligation 15 years
- Bolivia: 16-49 years of age for 12-month voluntary military service; Bolivian citizenship required; minimum age of combat is 18. Compulsory recruitment can be enforced, including conscription of boys as young as 14.
- Canada: 17 years of age for voluntary military service (with parental consent); 16 years of age for Reserve and Military College applicants; Canadian citizenship or permanent residence status required; maximum 34 years of age; service obligation 3-9 years.
- Djibouti: 18 years of age for voluntary military service; 16-25 years of age for voluntary military training; no conscription.
- El Salvador: 18 years of age for selective compulsory military service; 16-22 years of age for voluntary service; service obligation is 12 months, with 11 months for officers and NCOs.
- Guinea-Bissau: 18-25 years of age for selective compulsory military service (Air Force service is voluntary); 16 years of age or younger, with parental consent, for voluntary service.
- India: 16-18 years of age for voluntary military service (Army 17 1/2, Air Force 17, Navy 16 1/2); no conscription.
- Iran: 18 years of age for compulsory military service; 16 years of age for volunteers; 17 years of age for Law Enforcement Forces; 15 years of age for Basij Forces (Popular Mobilization Army); conscript military service obligation is 18 months; women exempt from military service.
- Kyrgyzstan: 18-27 years of age for compulsory or voluntary male military service in the Armed Forces or Interior Ministry; 1-year service obligation, 16-17 years of age for military cadets, who cannot take part in military operations.
- Mexico: 18 years of age for compulsory military service, conscript service obligation is 12 months; 16 years of age with consent for voluntary enlistment; conscripts serve only in the Army; cadets enrolled in military schools from the age of 15 are considered members of the armed forces.
- Moldova: 18 years of age for compulsory or voluntary military service; male registration required at age 16; 1-year service obligation; note - the ultimate abolition of military conscription has been announced.
- Norway: 19-35 years of age for male and female compulsory military service; 16 years of age in wartime; 17 years of age for male volunteers; 18 years of age for women; 19-month service obligation.
- Pakistan: 16-23 years of age for voluntary military service; soldiers cannot be deployed for combat until age 18.
- Papa New Guinea: 16 years of age for voluntary military service (with parental consent); no conscription.
- San Marino: 18 is the legal minimum age for voluntary military service; no conscription; the government has the authority to call up all San Marino citizens from 16-60 years of age to service in the military.
- Singapore: 18-21 years of age for male compulsory military service; 16 1/2 years of age for volunteers; 2-year conscript service obligation.
- Tajikistan: 18-27 years of age for compulsory or voluntary military service; 2-year conscript service obligation; males required to undergo compulsory military training between ages 16 and 55.
- Tonga: 16 years of age for voluntary enlistment (with parental consent); no conscription; the king retains the right to call up "all those capable of bearing arms" in wartime.
- Trinidad and Tobago: 18-25 years of age for voluntary military service (16 years of age with parental consent); no conscription; Trinidad and Tobago citizenship and completion of secondary school required.
- Zambia: National registration required at age 16; 18-25 years of age for voluntary military service (16 years of age with parental consent); no conscription; Zambian citizenship required; grade 12 certification required; mandatory HIV testing on enlistment
(Source: CIA - The World Fact Book)