When Poor Research and Dubious Journalism must be Challenged on Academic Grounds

UK army should stop recruiting children, health experts say Report says ‘irresponsible’ policy of recruiting 16-year-olds put their health at risk.” (sic) Says A Guardian headline on the 26th February 2019. See the article here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/26/uk-army-should-stop-recruiting-children-health-experts-say

DefenceSynergia (DS) is appalled at this unworthy piece of research first published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) – Paediatrics Open. An Army spokesman responded: “We strongly dispute many of the assertions in this article, which are based on the assumption that under 18s are deployed in front line combat roles. This is not the case as 16-18 year old trainee soldiers are not deployed on combat operations and are able to leave employment at any point before their 18th birthday. It is also untrue to suggest we predominantly recruit from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Whilst medical research into the development of the brain [Newport Academy Oct 2018 – What You Need to Know About Teen Brain Development] indicates ”…the adolescent brain doesn’t fully mature until a young person reaches their mid-twenties” this does not explain the direction that the authors in Paediatrics Open have taken. A reasonable person might feel that the whole premise of the Paediatrics Open article is flawed when it relies for its opening raison D’etre upon this statement “…It is impossible to know the exact figure but it is estimated that there are tens of thousands of children in armed groups around the world. The UK is one of only a handful of countries worldwide to recruit children (defined as any person under the age of 18) aged 16 into the armed forces as part of state policy and is the only country in Europe and the only permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council to recruit 16-year-olds. In March 2018, the number of under-18 army recruits was 2290, making up 21% of all army recruits.”

From the use of the term ‘armed groups‘ DS must assume that the authors do not recognise that in the United Kingdom parental consent is required as are high standards of training, continuing education, legal protection, health and welfare provision as laid down by Her Majesty’s Government and provided by the British Army and other services for all their personnel. The authors seem to make no distinction between the British Army’s recruitment and care of its junior leaders and apprentices and, according to the United Nations, the young people being forced to serve in paramilitary gangs in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan as well as in the state Armed Forces in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

Sadly, this undermines an other wise useful piece of research by failing to recognise that the recruitment of young people under the age of 18 by HM Armed Forces has no equivalence to despotic regimes and criminal gangs that kidnap, threaten, coerce and starve their ‘boy soldiers’ to encourage them to engage in torture, mutilation and the murder of their own countrymen.

It is worth remembering that whilst the authors refer to ‘children’ there are many in the political establishment, not least in the Labour and Nationalist Parties, that believe 16 year olds are mature enough to have the vote. Indeed, in UK a 14 year old can be issued with a firearms licence but there is no minimum age for a shotgun certificate – though there are, rightly restrictions. At 16 a person can apply for a provisional driving licence to drive a moped and at 17 a car [even younger if at 16 the young person has the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Therefore, when it comes to what society deems a 16 year old to be capable of – whether they are seen in the eyes of the law as children or on a par with adults – it often depends on the motivation of the person doing the asking?’ For example: The correlation between age and common sense, productive output, rational thought or psychological well being is not something that science can always reasonably determine – e.g. explain ‘Parliament!’