Chapter 6: This Is Belonging: children and British military recruitment
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In the United Kingdom the minimum age of military recruitment is 16. The UK’s child recruitment policy has been challenged by the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Defence Committee, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, major child rights organizations, Amnesty International, the National Union of Teachers, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and military veterans themselves. The UK government has nonetheless ignored all calls to review the policy. Therefore, 16-year-olds continue to be recruited by the British military. Despite this, there is little research into the British military’s recruitment of 16-year-olds and engagement with young people. This chapter addresses this gap and argues that the British military’s recruitment of 16-year-olds should be included in debates about child soldiers. It begins by analysing how and why the British military continue to recruit 16-year-olds, before going on to discuss how the British military engages with children through the production of official HM Armed Forces toys, cadet programmes, visits to schools and social media campaigns. The chapter argues that such activities constitute a child soldier culture and then analyses how the Army’s most recent recruitment campaign – with its focus on belonging, camaraderie and community – is targeted at young people. The chapter concludes by discussing two recent forms of counter-recruitment activity to demonstrate how Britain’s child soldier culture can effectively be contested.

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