The British Army has been accused of “leaning on” under-18s in order to plug recruitment gaps, with 16 and 17-year-olds accounting for nearly 30 per cent of those enlisted last year.

Data compiled by the Child Rights International Network (CRIN) shows that the (UK) army recruited 1,000 16-year-olds and 820 17-year-olds last year, with the youngsters more likely to come from poorer areas. 

The UK is the only country in Europe which routinely recruits people aged under 18, and Charlotte Cooper, campaigns coordinator with CRIN, told The Guardian: “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.”

According to figures compiled by Ms Cooper and rounded to the nearest five, some 55 teenagers aged 16 and 17 from Blackpool South enlisted in the British army between April 2013 and April 2018, while 50 came from Kingston upon Hull East.

Children as young as 15 years and seven months old can start their applications to become a soldier, but cannot join until they are 16.

Soldiers cannot be deployed on operations outside the UK until they are 18, and anyone under that age needs written parental consent to be able to enlist.

Government data released earlier this month revealed that the strength of the British military fell for the ninth year in a row.

The figures also showed that while recruitment is increasing, the Army, with 74,400 regular fully-trained troops, is still more than 7,000 short of the target figure of 82,000, a deficit of over nine per cent.

recent controversial Army advertising series appeared to resonate with target audiences, despite branding youngsters ‘snowflakes’, ‘phone zombies’, ‘binge gamers’ and ‘selfie addicts’.  Your Army Needs You: British Army unveils its latest recruitment campaign

Lieutenant General Tyrone Urch, Commander Home Command, said at the time: “You may feel like the army is dumbing down on who it seeks to recruit as these ads are a change to the norm, [but] the army is open for business”.

Today, an MoD spokesperson said: “We are proud of the opportunities serving in the armed forces affords young people, from basic literacy education and support for postgraduate degrees, to high-quality accredited training and unique employment prospects.”

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