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
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
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