Child Soldiers in Scotland

Child Soldiers in ScotlandScotland, as part of the U.K., allows children aged 16 and 17 to enlist in the armed forces. The U.K. is the only country in Europe for which the enlistment of minors is legal, and it is one of 20 countries in the world to allow child soldiers at the age of 16. Furthermore, the Scottish National Party (SNP) does not support the existence of child soldiers in Scotland. Despite representing the majority in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP does not have jurisdiction to overturn the existing law regarding child soldiers because it is a federal matter.  


There are currently four main rules in place for child soldiers in Scotland: 

  1. They must obtain parental consent before they enlist. 
  2. Upon entering, they have up to six months to legally withdraw from the army. 
  3. If they do not withdraw after six months, they are required to continue until age 22 unless discharged by a commanding officer. 
  4. Minors do not have permission to enter the front lines until they turn 18, at which point they become legal adults. 

Activists argue the first six months of service are often only enough to include training and preparation and therefore, do not provide the young recruits with sufficient experience to determine whether they want to continue. Furthermore, requiring child soldiers to remain in the army until they are 22 means that they are required to stay in the armed forces for five and sometimes six years — significantly longer than the requirement for adult recruits. 

Negative Effects 

Child soldiers in Scotland face several associated negative risks both during and after their service. For example, MP Carol Monaghan of the SNP has expressed concern over the increased risk of sexual assault for females under 18 in the military. Approximately one out of every 75 females under the age of 18 has reported sexual assault, and experts believe there are many more unreported cases of sexual assault for female soldiers under the age of 18. 

Besides the increased risk of sexual assault, one of the major problems of child soldiers is that those who enlist as minors are much more likely to experience mental health problems after they have finished service, including an increased risk of suicide. 

Additionally, child recruitment overwhelmingly targets children from low-income families in Scottish society. Military briefs in 2018-2019 revealed that children from families with an average income of £10,000 were the main targets of child military recruitment in the UK, which is well below the national average of £32,000

Education levels are one way that the effects of targeted recruitment of kids from low-income families reveal themselves. For instance, the U.K. Ministry of Defense found that around half of recruits possessed a reading level less than or equal to an 11-year-old. This is particularly troublesome as it raises questions about new recruits’ awareness of the terms and conditions of their enlistment. This is illustrated by the fact that the Enlistment Paper, which outlines the terms of service for child soldiers, is quite technical, and therefore, makes it difficult for child recruits with below-average reading skills to fully grasp the terms and conditions of their enlistment. In fact, data reveals that most child soldiers are unaware of their enlistment requirements when they enlist. 

Good News

Although the enlistment of child soldiers in Scotland remains legal, hope is emerging that it will soon be a thing of the past. First, as noted previously, the SNP, which holds a majority in the Scottish Parliament, does not support the legalization of child soldiers and therefore may be able to use its majority position in Westminster to express support for raising the minimum age of recruitment to 18 and, if Scotland gains independence from the U.K., Scotland could eliminate the use of child soldiers. 

Furthermore, multiple international organizations, such as Amnesty International U.K. and the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Child, have actively recommended that the U.K. government raise the minimum age of recruitment to 18. Such continued public pressure by well-known and respected international organizations could go a long way in helping convince members of the U.K. parliament to limit and eventually eliminate the use of child soldiers in Scotland and the U.K. 

Looking Ahead

The enlistment of child soldiers in Scotland and the wider U.K. remains a problem, especially for children of low-income families. However, with the SNP taking a greater role in advocating for the termination of child soldiers and mounting pressure from human rights groups putting more pressure on the U.K. to raise the minimum age enlistment age to 18, there is some hope for the elimination of child soldiers in Scotland. 

– Athan Yanos 
Photo: Flickr