The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has denied that it is glamorising war to attract children as young as eight to a career in the Armed Forces in an effort to hit its recruitment targets.
A critical new report, Informed Choice? Armed Forces and Recruitment Practice in the UK, found that the pool of potential new recruits was shrinking, with the MoD spreading its net to target young children and teenagers.
Efforts are intensifying and diversifying to include social networking sites, and while children are being told of the potential benefits of a career in the forces, the risks are often omitted, the report warned.
David Gee, an independent researcher and author of the report, told Personnel Today that recruitment literature for Army careers was misleading as it often glossed over the difficult shift from civilian to military life, the ethical aspects of killing, risks to physical and mental health, the legal obligations of enlisting, and the right of conscientious objection.
“Military roles are promoted as glamorous and exciting. And battle is likened to an enjoyable game, which appeals to the young,” he said.
The UK Armed Forces suffered a steady decline in staff numbers during 2007. Statistics from the Defence Analytical Services Agency showed the forces to be at 96.8% of full-time trained strength in June last year, down from 97.1% in January.
A number of new initiatives have been launched by the MoD to tackle recruitment problems, including raising the maximum age at which people can join the Army, and changing Navy job titles.
MoD websites, including Camouflage and Altitude (a site targeting eight to 18-year-olds) use words and images appealing to young people.
The official sites are being heavily marketed on other teenager-focused websites, Gee said. Free software, screensavers and games are offered with opportunities to ‘fire a tank online’, which is completely different from sitting in a tank in a war zone in Afghanistan, he added.
The report called for a charter that would provide fair, balanced and accurate information. “The experience of warfare can be difficult and many young recruits are left dissatisfied with their military careers as a result,” said Gee.
A spokesman for the MoD said the forces did not target people aged under 18.
“Service careers must compete with other potential employers in a competitive environment and have the opportunity to recruit people when they are legally able to leave school. The recruiting process is designed to protect the interests of the applicants at every stage, regardless of age,” the spokesman said.
- In 2007, 48% of all soldiers found Army life to be worse than expected, with only 20% thinking it was better.
- Official figures show that 20% of soldiers want to leave the Army at the earliest opportunity.
- More than £2bn is invested annually in training. Most of this is used to train about 20,000 new recruits who replace those who leave each year.