The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence has revealed through a freedom of information request that the British military sent five soldiers who were under the age of 18 into war zones over the past two decades.
In the blunder that breaks the UK’s commitment to a United Nations (UN) pledge, three 17 year olds were sent to Afghanistan and two more were deployed to Iraq between 2007 and 2010.
After the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflicts was signed by the UK in 2000 and ratified in 2003, under-18s were forbidden from being deployed to combat zones. The signed treaty was especially important after an incident in the 1970s in which two 17-year-old British soldiers in Belfast were lured away from their camp by women inviting them to a party and then killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Much of the cases of the British soldiers sent to the conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan were due to negligence and incompetence on the part of British army chiefs, with most of the soldiers being just months away from their 18th birthdays. One of the child soldiers was allegedly moved to a “rear location“ once his age was discovered, another was returned to the military base in Germany, and the fifth was sent back to the UK.
On Saturday, the MoD said: “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.”
The revelations by the British MoD come amid a rise in reports of the use of child soldiers by groups and states in Middle Eastern conflicts, including recent allegations that Saudi Arabia has been recruiting and deploying child soldiers in its military campaign in Yemen against the Houthis. Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a US list of countries which recruit child soldiers, despite strong evidence presented by experts and rights groups to the contrary.