Government 'get-out clause': UK child soldiers could still go into battle

'The government has retained the right to send under-18s into battle by adding a declaration that it will do so if there is a genuine military need or due to the nature and urgency of the situation. This declaration undermines the spirit of the Optional Protocol and allows under-18s to be sent into battle at the discretion of military commanders,' said Kelli Terrington of Amnesty International UK.

'Meanwhile the Armed Forces continue to recruit under-18s, so raising serious questions about the government's commitment to the fundamental rights of Children's rights - including their rights to life and to physical and mental integrity. The surest way to keep Children's rights out of the war-zone is not to recruit under-18s in the first place.'

The UK Coalition To Stop the Use of Child Soldiers which includes Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, Aviva, Jesuit Refugee Service, Pax Christi, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Trocaire and UNICEF UK is calling on the Government to:

  • withdraw its declaration to the Optional Protocol
  • put in place legislation banning the deployment of under-18s in hostilities
  • raise the minimum age for recruitment to 18 years or over.

Background

The Optional Protocol recognises that Children's rights need special protection in armed conflict. It encourages governments to raise the age of voluntary recruitment into armed forces, and requires states to take all feasible measures to ensure that under-18s do not take a direct part in hostilities. The Optional Protocol entered into force on 12 February 2002. It had been ratified by 43 states as of 4 December 2002.

The UK government's ratification of the Optional Protocol was laid on the table in parliament yesterday (24 February 2003).

16-year-olds continue to be targeted extensively for recruitment into the UK Armed Forces. No other European country apart from the UK deploys under-18s and the UK is the EU country with the lowest recruitment age.

The vision of the UK Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers is an end to the military recruitment and deployment of anyone under 18 in armed conflict, both nationally and internationally. The UK Coalition is a member of the broader international Coalition To Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. A comprehensive Global Report on child soldiers (2001) can be found at www.child-soldiers.org.

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