Campaigners against early military recruitment welcome committee decision to report on schools visits

Caitlin Logan

MSPs will produce a report on armed forced visits to schools and safeguarding guidelines

A REPORT ON armed forces visits to schools and safeguarding procedures will be published later this year, the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee has confirmed.

The decision follows a petition from UK-wide campaign group ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland, who have welcomed the promised report as an opportunity to explore and address their concerns about recruitment practices in schools.

READ MORE: Petition on military visits to Scottish schools to be heard at Holyrood

The petitioners’ analysis of Ministry of Defence figures provided by a freedom of information request to the committee shows that 770 visits were made by the armed forces to Scottish schools between April 2016 and March 2017, 58 per cent of which were made by the army. 75.5 per cent of the visits promoted a career in the armed forces.

The petition has called for guidance on how these visits are conducted to ensures “political balance” and a “realistic representation of the role of the armed forces and what a career in the armed forces involves”, that information is collected to allow public monitoring of the number and nature of the visits, and that parents and guardians are consulted on whether they want their child to take part in the visits.

Commenting on the decision from the committee, Rhianna Louise of ForcesWatch told CommonSpace: We welcome the promised Public Petitions Committee report on armed forces visits to schools.

“It is vital that the report’s safeguarding proposals take into consideration the evidence submitted by the Scottish Youth Parliament, Connect (formerly Scottish Parent Teachers Council), Together (the Scotland Alliance for Children’s Rights) and Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner.

READ MORE: New youth campaign calls for a ban on military in Scotland’s schools and colleges 

“Each of these stakeholders has testified to the current lack of adequate safeguards protecting young people from the military having unbalanced access to the education system for recruitment purposes.

“We are now hoping for an informed report, showing that child rights and welfare take precedence in Scotland over the military’s desire to promote its image and to make up for adult recruit shortfalls with child recruits.”

ForcesWatch argues that there is currently a lack of balance in information about military careers in schools, and that greater awareness of the issues around the recruitment of young people is needed. In particular, the organisation points to long-term consequences of early enlistment, such as deprivation, unemployment and mental ill-health.

Co-petitioners Quakers in Scotland commented: “Quakers in Scotland have been led by faith to ask the Scottish Parliament to extend choice, transparency and accountability around armed forces visits to schools.

READ MORE: Ban on military recruitment of under 18s passed overwhelmingly at SNP conference

“We are delighted the Public Petitions Committee will now be writing a report on this important child rights issue.”

At present, people can be recruited to the military from age sixteen,making the UK the only EU or NATO country which currently recruits at 16.

The SNP conference in autumn 2017 voted overwhelmingly to raise the military recruitment age to 18, making it party policy to campaign for this change at Westminster.

The motion was brought forward by Young Scots for Independence (YSI), the SNP youth wing, which also submitted evidence in support of the petition to introduce greater scrutiny and guidance on military visits to schools.

In its submission, YSI stated: “We do not believe that the Armed Forces should be recruiting in schools. We disagree with the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) definition of recruitment as the final act of signing up or making a legal commitment but instead believe that recruitment is a process, of which school visits play a vital part.

READ MORE: SNP and Green MSPs condemn British military for recruitment of “vulnerable” youths 

“We believe that Scotland should move into line with international and national human rights bodies recommendations on these issue. We consider it shocking that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has recently once again found current armed forces practice to be lacking in regards to their relationship with young people.”

The petition has also been supported by the Scottish Youth Parliament following a focus group with young people, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Together, a coalition of Scottish children’s rights organisations, and the Scottish Parent Teachers Council, now called Connect.

Eileen Prior, executive direct of Connect told CommonSpace that the parliament’s plans to report on the issue was “good news”.

Prior said: “We know from parents that they are concerned about the way the armed forces operate in schools, and there is certainly a strong concern that recruitment activity is taking place in some of our more deprived communities.”

Picture courtesy of Defence Images 

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