EXCL UK broke pledge not to send under-age soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan

Posted On: 
23rd July 2019

The UK continued to send child soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan despite pledging to end the practice, PoliticsHome can reveal.

UK troops patrol Deh Adam Khan district of Helmand Province.
Credit: 
PA Images

Five 17-year-olds were deployed to the warzones between 2007 and 2010 in direct contravention of official government policy and a United Nations treaty.

That was despite a minister previously admitting that teenagers had erroneously been sent into battle between 2003 and 2005, and insisting it would not happen again.

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The Ministry of Defence said it "deeply regrets this administrative error", which was revealed following a Freedom of Information request.

Sixteen-year-olds are allowed to join the Army, but under the terms of the UN Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, known as the ‘child soldiers treaty’, the UK does not send under-18s to warzones.

And the official MoD policy on combat roles says “service personnel under 18 are not to deploy to any operations outside of UK, except where the operation does not involve personnel becoming engaged in, or exposed to, hostilities”.

Two of the five 17-year-olds wrongly sent to take part in the war on terror were sent home after they arrived on deployment.

Of the other three, two stayed in camp until their 18th birthday, while the fact that the other was under-age was not discovered until after he turned 18.

All five of the boys were deployed between April 2007 and April 2010, three to Afghanistan and two to Iraq.

The MoD said: “Of these five Service personnel, two were within two days of their 18th birthday, and two were identified on their arrival in theatre and returned to UK; they redeployed after their 18th birthday.

“The fifth individual was not identified until after they turned 18. No such deployment has occurred beyond March 2010.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the MoD said: “While our records show individuals who were identified as underage were either sent home, or remained in camp until they turned 18, this should not have happened and we deeply regret this administrative error. 

“We have since tightened our procedures and since 2010 no under 18s have been deployed on combat operations.”

It was previously revealed that fifteen 17-year-old Brits were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan between June 2003 and July 2005.

In 2007 Labour’s then-defence minister Adam Ingram made a written statement to the House of Commons stressing that fewer than five of them were there for longer than three weeks.

He said new procedures had been put in place since the UN treaty was ratified, but added: "Unfortunately, these processes are not infallible and the pressures on units prior to deployment have meant that there have been a small number of instances where soldiers have been inadvertently deployed to Iraq before their 18th birthday."