Britain’s army is increasingly relying on 16- and 17-year-olds to fill its ranks, the youngsters accounting for nearly 30% of those enlisted last year, the highest proportion since the start of the decade. Britain is the only NATO member and country in Europe to allow direct enlistment into the army at the age of 16
Recruits are also more likely to come from poorer backgrounds, such as on the edges of cities in the north of England, according to data from the Child Rights International Network (CRIN), which campaigns against recruiting under-18s.
Charlotte Cooper, campaigns coordinator with CRIN, said: “The army is leaning on teenagers from the most deprived backgrounds to fix its recruitment crisis, using them to fill the riskiest roles because it can’t persuade enough adults to enlist.”
Youngsters are not eligible for combat operations until the age of 18, but the period is used for training at the Army Foundation College, in Harrogate. Parental consent is also required, although only in the form of a signature.
The most recent official recruitment figures released show that in the year to the end of March 2019 the army enlisted 1,000 16-year-olds and a further 820 17-year-olds, accounting for 28.8% of recruitment into the ranks. The army also recruited more 16-year-olds than any other age.
The figures make up the highest proportion of youth recruitment since 2010/11, and partly reflects the fact that enlistment of the young is holding up better while overall recruitment is plunging. Last year only 6,320 people were enlisted into the ranks of the British army, the lowest level since modern records began in 1999/2000.
CRIN also said that the army targeted poorer parts of the UK in its youth recruitment, and according to its analysis of enlistment data relating to England, the rate of recruitment of the under-18s is 57% higher in the most deprived fifth of constituencies relative to the most affluent fifth.
The brief for the army recruitment campaigns in 2018 and 2019 specified the target audience as 16- to 24-year-olds from the lower socioeconomic categories of C2DE. The brief for 2017’s This Is Belonging campaign was geared to young people from families with a mean income of £10,000.