Number of underage soldiers record high in German army – report

German officer cadets © Frank Perry
The German military recruited a record number of underage soldiers in 2015, German daily Die Welt reported, citing figures from an inquiry conducted by the Left Party (Die Linke), which called the situation “a scandal”.

The number of underage recruits aged 17 who joined the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, by November 2016 amounted to 1,576, the paper said citing the German Defense Ministry’s response to the Left Party inquiry.

This is a more than double the number from 2011, when Germany abolished compulsory military service. At that time, 689 underage recruits joined the ranks.

German laws allow 17-year-olds to join the armed forces with prior parental permission. The Defense Ministry also stressed in its response to the Left Party’s inquiry that “the use of weapons [by underage soldiers] is strictly limited only to training that takes place under strict surveillance.”

The 17-year-olds do not perform guard duties and do not take part in foreign military operations, it added.

The Left Party denounced the recruitment of underage soldiers, calling it a “scandal.”

“The Bundeswehr’s recruitment of minors must finally come to an end,” Norbert Muller, an MP from the Left Party and the head of the German parliament’s committee for children, told Die Welt, adding that “military interests should no longer be prioritized over children and teens’ rights to protection.”

The Left Party’s parliamentary faction also brought forward a motion envisaging an immediate ban on the recruitment of underage soldiers and arms training. The party also stressed that the recruitment of the underage soldiers undermines Germany’s authority on the world stage in the protection of children’s rights.

Earlier, the Bundeswehr’s practice was also criticized by some international bodies. In 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a recommendation saying that Germany should set the minimum age for recruiting at 18.

The German military dismissed criticisms by saying that they do not violate any German or international legal norms and actually protect the rights of young people. It stressed that the German Army acts in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict that allows young people under 18 to volunteer for the army as long as they do not take part in armed conflicts.

The military went on to say that they want to give youth an opportunity to start training before reaching 18 years and thus not to fall behind their age mates, who chose another career.

“In this case, the principle of freedom of career choice is also taken into account,” a Bundeswehr spokesperson told Die Welt, adding that the German Army does not only provide a secure career, but is also a “meaningful employer offering great opportunities for personal and technical development.”

Meanwhile, the Left Party also criticized the Bundeswehr’s efforts aimed at making the military service attractive in the eyes of children and teenagers, which “significantly increased” after the abolishment of the compulsory service.

In many advertising campaigns launched by the military, army service is described somewhat similarly to an adventure holiday. The Bundeswehr recently started airing a reality show on YouTube called ‘the Recruits’, which demonstrates the first days of a group of young people in the German army.

In the meantime, the Left Party warns that early military training can have negative effects on a person’s mental development. People under 20 years, who “are taught various violence-based behavior strategies, including killing techniques,” are then more severely affected by various psychological traumas, a party representative said, citing the results of a recent study, as reported by Deutsche Welle.