Army faces criticism for campaign aimed to recruit under-18s

A charity that campaigns against the recruitment of child soldiers has expressed alarm at the number of 16- and 17-year-olds who applied to join the British army after the launch of a controversial advertising campaign.

New figures obtained by the charity Child Soldiers International reveal that more than 19,041 16 and 17-year-olds applied to join the army after the launch of the advert – an average of about 9,500 per year group. Of these just over 500 have begun training.

The charity said it was concerned that the campaign had appealed to some of the youngest possible recruits.

Rachel Taylor, the charity’s director of programmes, said the army wanted young people to sign up because they were “more psychologically malleable”.

“They are more likely to submit unquestioningly to what they are told to do. They are in the process of forming their adult identity. Some veterans say the army wants people in that age group because they can be psychologically and emotionally manipulated into unquestioning loyalty. This is an age group that shouldn’t be targeted because of those psychological vulnerabilities,” she said.

“When they leave the armed forces they have no civilian identity to go back to, which makes reintegration very difficult. People who are older when they join up have a much greater sense of self. They can go through that very intense armed forces experience but when it’s time to leave they have something else to go home to.”

The campaign which has been created by Karmarama (whose clients include and the supermarket chain Iceland) comprise beautifully produced 30-second films showing fictional scenes of young soldiers in various training and combat situations helping and supporting each other. The films were disseminated via social media, television and cinema.

Karmarama said in an interview at the launch of the campaign that it:

“…calls on young people who want to be part of something bigger to act on these ambitions, and consider a career in the forces”.

An MoD spokesperson said: “This is a national recruitment campaign designed to reach a broad audience, helping to achieve an armed forces which represents the people they serve.”

The Ministry of Defence argues that soldiers who are under 18 are not deployed on operations that would expose them to hostilities and can choose to leave the army up to their 18th birthdays.

It is thought the change in strategy is due to a combination of low recruitment numbers from the previous year and a high amount of service leavers unhappy with Army life.