End the recruitment of child soldiers, British Army told

The British Army should end the damaging and costly recruitment of minors, a coalition of campaigners and religious figures have said.

The recruitment of under-18s is threatening young people's welfare and job prospects and leading to huge additional costs, they claim.

The Church of Scotland and the Bishops of the Church are among those who have signed an open letter calling for an end to the practice as a "fitting memorial" to young soldiers killed in World War One.

The MOD is currently reviewing the recrutiment of minors due to the disproportionate costs involved.

The recruitment of 16-year olds cost the MOD an additional £90 million in 2010-11 due to the fact that around half dropped out during training, campaigners claim.

"The time is right to look at under-18 recruitment again," former armed forces minister Nick Harvey said today.

"It should not be limited to just the financial costs of training and recruitment, but must seriously examine the personal costs borne by recruits who enlist at this age."

Campaigners claim the army is failing to prepare young people for life outside.

"It’s time for the MoD to recognise what more and more young people and their parents are realising – that enlisting at 16 is not in their best interests," Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International said.

"Army training does not give young people what they need to succeed in today’s economy, especially in terms of qualifications.

"During the First World War, the minimum age for recruitment and conscription was 18, with deployment at 19. To be recruiting 16-year-olds a century later makes no sense at all."

MOD figures show that the number of young people signing up to the army continues to decline with just 880 16-year-olds enlisting last year, down from over 3000 a decade ago.

The UK is among fewer than 20 countries who still allow the recruitment of soldiers at 16.