Two sides of one coin: UK slammed for child migrant and military child recruitment policies

refugees boats on open water, discussion on military treatment of children
Support us and go ad-free

UN child rights experts have slammed the UK for its anti-child policies. A committee met in Geneva to discuss the state of child rights in the UK. Experts were particularly critical of military recruitment policy and migration in the UK.

But there’s a bigger story there too, only grasped at in the UN findings. The treatment of children across military recruitment but also as refugees are deeply connected. When it comes to the demands of global power, kids don’t stand a chance.

UN criticism

The UN report noted:

…with concern reports of advertising of and marketing for military service aimed at children and the overrepresentation of socioeconomically disadvantaged children in the armed forces.

The experts urged to UK to take two measures. Firstly:

Consider raising the minimum age of voluntary recruitment into the armed forces to 18 years.

And secondly:

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Prohibit all forms of advertising and marketing for military service targeted at children, in particular at schools and targeting children belonging to ethnic minority groups and socioeconomically disadvantaged children.

Optimistic calls, because all the evidence suggests the UK is determined to keep recruiting minors – malleable as they are – into the ranks.

Recruiting kids

The UK currently accepts 16-year-olds into the military. And it seems determined to keep doing it. This is in spite of a vast body of evidence that doing so benefits neither the child nor the military.

Organisations like Forces Watch have compiled substantial bodies of evidence and argument on this issue. And, the Before You Sign Up website details how opaque and dishonest military recruiters are.

Reports like The Last Ambush examine the mental health impacts of service, not least on the very young. Another report, The First Ambush, unpacks the grimy reality of military training and its outcomes.

The overwhelming evidence here is that military recruiting brutalises young people and diminishes their prospects. But, the institution and government don’t seem to care.

Migrants rights

The committee was just as withering about the Tory’s racist Illegal Migration Bill. They said they had noted:

The potential impact of the Illegal Migration Bill on children, which includes a ban on the right to claim asylum, allows for the prolonged detention and removal of children, creates barriers for acquiring nationality, and lacks a consideration of the principle of the best interests of the child.

The committee urged the government to:

…amend the Illegal Migration Bill to repeal all draft provisions that would have the effect of violating children’s rights.

They also said the government should “bring the Bill in line with the State party’s obligations under international human rights law” as well as a number of other measures.

Two sides of a coin

The committee is absolutely correct that the UK government has failed in its commitment to children. What sits slightly outside the scope of their report is the correlation between the two.

The two best-represented nationalities for migrants and refugees coming into Europe are Afghanistan and Syria. The UK recently bombed both countries, and they are both historically affected by British ‘influence’ – by which we mean violence. Iraq features prominently. Needless to say, Bangladesh and Pakistan are up there too.

In Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, the wars featured massive military occupations. Thousands of ground troops, many of whom had been so-called ‘boy soldiers’, cycled through these warzones.

They come back to the kind of outcomes described in the reports above. Meanwhile, many children and young people from those places have suffered war and loss before undertaking a long, arduous journey. And that journey into Europe, which was never welcoming to refugees in the first place, seems to be getting even more febrile by the day.

Indifferent power

The lesson is this: for consecutive British governments, children do not matter. At least not working-class kids from council estates in the UK or children displaced from the war zones that British administrations themselves have created around the world.

All this is worth bearing in mind when we talk about anything from migration to welfare. As a veteran myself, few things anger me quite as much as that well-worn, far-right slogan about favouring ex-military personnel over refugees. Because the truth is the people who say things like that couldn’t give a toss about either. And that is nowhere more evident than in the UN’s latest report.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Ggia, cropped to 1910 x 1000, licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. What absolute rubbish.Joining the Armed forces for most people is a great opportunity.I served 7 years and my only regret is I didnt stay in longer.Of course unlike Mr Glenton I didnt go AWOL and shirk my duty.16 to 18 year olds are not allowed on active service which Im sure Glenton knows but doesnt mention.Glenton was a rotten soldier and an even worse journalist .I suppose he thinks young people from poor backgrounds are better off flipping burgers or hanging around street corners rather than doing something positive eith their lives.

      1. Bear in mind that many community centres and other local council-supported activities were effectively shut down by successive UK government policies over the years. These community facilities would have helped young people from poor backgrounds engage productively with the world around them. Proposing that military service is a “great opportunity” means that, at some point as they get older, these young people will progress into participating in military operations against other people from poor backgrounds in far away, resource-rich countries. It is class war by other means.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.