The reality is that an organisation 'Child Soldiers International' (CSI) has sent a letter to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) protesting about sixteen year olds joining the Army. There are many reports and interviews flying around and people wittering on about the Army 'no longer routinely deploying children into conflict,' and some are even claiming that we are, 'No better than those in Central Africa,' when it comes to child soldiers.
But I have to say the signatories of the CSI document don't speak for me and here's why:
1. I have seen more lives changed for the better than the worse by recruiting younger men.
I've seen kids escape lifestyles and environments that would have potentially seen them criminalised, impirsoned, abused and even dead. Their time in the army changed who they were and made them different men, and better citizens.
2. The youngest death in conflict I know of was that of a soldier depyoed days after his 18th birthday and the reality is that any death, conflict or otherwise, is a tragedy and the clichéd 'doing what they loved' doesn't make it any difference. Raising the entry age to 20 or 21 as some suggest is an interesting suggestion - does this mean that there is a lesser wrong or sadness in a KIA situation fir those who are older? Of course not - all emotive tosh I'm afraid for ALL deaths in conflict are awful and tragic.
(And there are so many who already misunderstand Remembrance and foolishly talk about glorifying war and the like - this is part of the same ignorance and spin).
3. I would rather see the less than a thousand youngster who join up each year being taught a trade and receiving education in a military setting than sitting around as NEETs and getting into trouble with the law and the community in which they live. Raise the age to 20/21 and we'd be able to restrict our I take because of their criminal records perhaps?
4. The ability to join the army rather than be conscripted or coerced is something that seems to be being overlooked (or perhaps ignored) here. Those who join tend to do so because they want to join - I've met some where the family 'encouraged' them and whilst some left after a brief stay - as many found they liked their new family and stayed to see out a significant career.
So here we are - using the te minute rule - my internal dialogue and my external views if asked today.
I would rather see youngsters come, find the Values and Standards of the British Army (which are life changing) and get some education and opportunities to get fit and test themselves (in our family that's what Air Cadets and the Duke of Edinburgh's Award provide) in a variety of settings.
And if you really care about Child Soldiers - February 12 is 'Red Hand Day'
Be vocal then.