Child soldiers in the UK: a Quaker concern – by Christine Habgood-Coote

In 1651 George Fox told the Church Commissioners that he “…lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars….” (Quaker Faith and Child soldiers in the UK: a Quaker concern – by Christine Habgood-Coote

In 1651 George Fox told the Church Commissioners that he “…lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars….” (Quaker Faith and practice 24.01) and it is for the peace testimony that Quakers are probably still best-known. In 1947 Friends Service Council (which later became Quake Peace and Social Witness) shared the Nobel Peace Prize with American Friends Service Committee in recognition of the relief work of American and British Quakers following both World Wars, and Quakers are still to be found working for peace in many areas of conflict locally, nationally and internationally.

For Quakers the word “testimony” describes the way we are called to act out our faith in our lives. Some enact our peace testimony in prayerful upholding of the world situation while others feel called to engage in dialogue with politicians, undertake research or education, take part in peace vigils or march in protest against military action. Each Quaker will act out the fundamental principles we call testimonies in the way that best fits their gifts, insight and experience.

Among the inspirational stories on the Britain Yearly Meeting website there is a description of the setting up of the Medical Campaign against Nuclear Weapons in 1979. Quakers were amongst the first members of MCANW, and doctors and medical students who found that others shared their concerns about the health implications of preparations to use nuclear weapons became Quakers. In 1992, MCANW merged with the Medical Association for the Prevention of War forming Medact ; the two organisations had been the UK affiliates of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Medact researches and campaigns on peace and security, climate and ecology, economic justice and Health and human rights.

On 18th October the Medact report “The Recruitment of Children by the UK Armed Forces” was published and a launch meeting was held at Brighton University.
A few facts from the report:

• 22% of recruits to the British Army in 2015 were children under the age of 18
• Those who sign up before the age of 18 are more likely to serve in frontline combat roles such as the infantry and can be sent on active service the day after their 18th birthday.
• In Afganhistan those who enlisted at 16 were twice as likely to be killed as older recruits…the fatality rate of the infantry was seven times the rate for the rest of the armed forces
• Children in the army have higher rates of mental health and addiction problems than their civilian peers
• Education standards of young recruits are lower than in civilian life and army qualifications are not recognised by civilian employers
• There is increasing evidence that decision-making capacity does not fully mature until the early 20s; suggesting that a 16 year old is not able to make a fully-informed decision to enter military service.
The UK is one of fewer than 20 countries worldwide which still allows recruitment from age 16 – the lowest age permissible under international law.

Quakers are active in many peace organisations including Medact, ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, the groups collaborating on this report. Individual Quakers are members, often over many years, while a scheme run by Britain Yearly Meeting has placed peaceworkers for a year in various peace groups including ForcesWatch. The current peaceworker at Medact was responsible for coordinating the Child Soldiers report and the use of Friends House is being donated for Medact’s annual conference on 9-10 December. We should all uphold Quakers acting “under concern” and Yearly Meeting 2017 is taking as its theme the way we can work with other organisations. We may well be surprised when we hear the stories of all those Quakers quietly “acting under concern” to try to improve our world, one step at a time.
Quaker Faith and Practice includes John Punshon (20.18) and Harvey Gillman (20.20) talking about testimony. gives more information about Yearly Meeting Gathering in Warwick 29 July to 5 August 2017.

Christine Habgood-Coote