European Interest

Recruitment of minors in German military stirs major controversy

Germany’s defence ministry has confirmed that a growing number of minors are being recruited into the military. And now critics are accusing the government of hypocrisy over opposition to the use of child soldiers.

In an answer to a question tabled by the German Left party, the defence ministry said that some 2,128 minors (under age 18) had been recruited as volunteers into the military last year. The list includes 448 young women. Also, 90 of the 2,128 recruits were still underage at the end of their six-month trial period.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, this represents a continued increase, with the number of underage recruits more than tripling since 2011, when the Bundeswehr recruited 689 underage people, and when Germany ended conscription.

“Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen clearly has no scruples about bringing recruitment forward more and more,” said Left party Bundestag member Evrim Sommer, who tabled the question. “Young people should not be used as cannon fodder in the Bundeswehr as soon as they come of age. As long as Germany recruits minors for military purposes, it cannot credibly criticise other countries. The German government is endangering its own efforts towards an international ban on the use of child soldiers.”

According to DW, Wolf-Christian Ramm, spokesman for the children’s rights group Terre des Hommes International Federation, said the new data was “not surprising but disquieting”.

“Of course, the Bundeswehr is looking for trainees and personnel – and we’ve got nothing against that,” he told DW. “But we’re strictly against 17-year-olds being recruited and trained. They are underage and don’t belong in an army.”

The United Nations has previously voiced concern about the Bundeswehr’s use of people under 18 even though minors are not allowed weapons training, and cannot be deployed to foreign missions. This is in line with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC), which the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 2002.

However, in a 2014 report on Germany, the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) noted: “Some advertising campaigns for the armed forces specifically target children, and representatives of the armed forces are sometimes present within the school context, speaking with pupils and organising activities”.

The UN also called on Germany to change this.

“The Bundeswehr does all it can to make itself attractive to young people,” Ramm told DW. “They have videos on YouTube and ads that talk about all the fun of joining the military, and compare it to playing an adventure game. That’s a part of the problem too. That hides the fact that military service is dangerous and can be deadly.”

In its answer to the Left party, the defence ministry stressed that “all underage soldiers have the possibility of revoking their period of service at any time within the first six months without giving a reason”.

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