Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

2. Memorandum from Dr Lewis Moonie MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Veterans Affairs, Ministry of Defence

  Thank you for your letter of 14 November to Adam Ingram regarding your Committee's examination of the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK's compliance with the UNCRC. You requested a short memorandum on how the MoD intends to ensure compliance with the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of the children in armed conflict, and I am replying as this matter now lies within my area of responsibility.

  Firstly, the Committee can be assured that the UK is committed to implementing the Optional Protocol which we signed in September 2000. This was an important signal of our intent and we already act in accordance with its spirit. We take the Protocol seriously and intend to ratify very soon, having finalised the detailed procedures and administrative guidelines for the Armed Forces that will give concrete form to our commitment. MoD officials, in consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are preparing an Explanatory Memorandum which will explain the steps being taken to meet that commitment. As part of the ratification process, we will soon lay the Explanatory Memorandum before Parliament.

  The recruitment and deployment of under 18s are the two main aspects of the Protocol.


  The UK's age of entry into to its Armed Forces is aligned with the school leaving age ie 16. This is fully in accord with Optional Protocol, and safeguards are in place to ensure that such recruitment is truly voluntary and fully understood by both the individual and his or her parents or guardians.

  The UN Committee asked that recruitment should be targeted more deliberately at over 18s. It is however, difficult to discriminate on age grounds in the offer of employment between two more or less equally qualified candidates, and in practical terms it is even more difficult to run advertising campaigns aimed at two age groups that are relatively close in age.

  The UN Committee was also concerned by allegations that young recruits have been the victims of bullying. Your Committee can be assured that any such allegation is treated with the greatest of seriousness. Within the Services, advice and counselling is given at all levels, including independent assistance from staff including padres, chaplains, Soldier Sailors, and Airmen Forces Association counsellors. A permanently staffed telephone "hotline" is also available to all personnel.


  With regards deployment, great care is taken in selecting the types of duty on which personnel may be employed, and none are deployed until they are fully trained:

    —  no service personnel under 17 years of age are deployed on operations;

    —  no personnel under 18 carry out operational patrols in Northern Ireland (even though they may be based there);

    —  personnel under 18 are deployed on UN peacekeeping operations, which is in line with UN policy;

    —  no Army personnel under 18 will be deployed on operations outside the United Kingdom unless they are of a purely humanitarian nature and no hostile forces are involved.

  In order to comply with the Protocol, your Committee would wish to be aware that we have developed procedures whereby all three of the Services' front-line commanders, in concert with the Chief of Joint Operations, will as a rule remove or replace all under 18s during preparations for those operations where there is deemed to be a greater than low probability of them having to take part in, or be put at risk by, hostilities. Only in exceptional instances will such removal or replacement not be carried out. These instances are defined by the terms of the following declaration which the UK made on signing the Protocol.

  "The United Kingdom will take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their Armed Forces who have not yet attained the age of 18 years old do not take a direct part in hostilities. However, the United Kingdom understands that Article 1 of the Protocol would not exclude the deployment of members of the Armed Forces under the age of 18 to take a direct part in hostilities where:

    —  there is a genuine military need to deploy their unit or ship to an area in which hostilities are taking place; and

    —  by reason of the nature and urgency of the situation:

      —  it is not practicable to withdraw such persons before deployment, or

      —  to do so would undermine the operational effectiveness of their ship or unit, and thereby put at risk the successful completion of the military mission and or the safety of other personnel."

  The purpose of making this statement was to clarify and make public our understanding of states' obligations to take all feasible measures to prevent the direct participation of under 18s in hostilities. It was also to demonstrate our commitment to accord special consideration to under 18s. It in no way undermines our commitment and will remain extant upon ratification.

  In view of the above safeguards, the new policy for the deployment of under 18s in the Army and the procedures for removing under 18s from situations where there is a substantive risk of them becoming directly involved in hostilities, the Committee can be assured that we have the procedures to ensure compliance with the Protocol and enable us to move swiftly now to ratification.

23 November 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 24 June 2003