THE mum of one of the youngest soldiers to be killed in Iraq admits she has “mixed emotions” about new calls to raise the minimum recruitment age for the armed forces.
Janice Murray, whose 18-year-old son Michael Tench died in a roadside bomb blast in 2007, said she would broadly welcome a change in the law to end 16- and 17-year-olds serving in the military.
However, she doubted whether such a move would put off determined teenagers, like her son, who had their hearts set on serving their country.
“From the age of seven, Michael was always determined to join the Army,” said Ms Tench, from Carley Hill.
“It was something he wanted to do for a long time. Everything was about joining up. It was his life.
“Nothing was going to change his mind, and I think a lot of young people feel that way.
“I would like to think that raising the age would allow them more time to think about what a career in the armed forces actually means, the downside as well as the upside, but, in all honesty, I don’t think it will.
“For some, there is nothing anybody can say or do to put them off it.”
Private Tench, a former pupil at Hylton Red House School, was in the back of a Warrior armoured car which was blasted by a roadside bomb in Basra.
“I would welcome a change in the law to raise the age, but it’s still something I have mixed emotions about,” said Ms Tench.
“I’d really like to see more attention being focused on education and support for recruits.
“It’s important that they know what they are getting into when they sign up and that the advice is there for them when they have to make such an crucial decision.”
Children and young people’s rights groups called for a change in the law after the second reading of the Armed Forces Bill, which the Defence Secretary Liam Fox presented to the House of Commons this week.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (CSUCS), together with War Child, Unicef UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, insisted that the Bill be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18.
Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association have given their backing to the call.
Although teenage recruits cannot participate in hostilities until they are 18, they are legally bound to serve until they are at least 22 by the contract they signed when aged just 16 or 17.
So far, Mr Fox and the Ministry of Defence are resisting the pressure to raise the age of recruitment to 18.
However, some question how long they can keep to this position.
“Joining the armed forces appeals to many young people, especially those who have limited other options, but many are naive about the risks they face,” said Victoria Forbes Adam, director of CSUCS.
“The armed forces don’t train teenagers to go on an adventure holiday – they train them to go to war. And evidence shows that it’s the youngest soldiers who face some of the biggest risks when they reach the front line.”