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UK must end army recruitment at 16, rights groups say

LONDON — Rights campaigners are taking aim at a British military policy that puts the country in the same league as North Korea and Iran: recruiting soldiers under the age of 18.

Two groups said in a report published Tuesday that Britain’s military is wasting up to $143.4 million a year training recruits who are under 18. They argued that it is an unnecessary drain on taxpayers at a time of austerity and urged an end to the practice.

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Britain is the only member of the European Union and only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council that allows military recruitment from the age of 16, though soldiers cannot deploy until they turn 18. Most countries recruit from the age of 18, though Britain and a handful of other countries, including Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe, allow the recruitment of younger soldiers.

Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch said it costs the UK military — which has borne severe cuts under government austerity measures — twice as much to train a soldier recruited at 16 than it does at 18 due to longer training requirements and higher dropout rates.

They called on Britain’s Ministry of Defense to revisit its ‘‘outdated’’ policy of recruiting minors.

‘‘Recruiting minors into the army is a practice from a bygone era,’’ said David Gee of Forces Watch. ‘‘It’s not just young recruits who pay the price for outdated MoD policies; taxpayers do too.’’

Britain’s Ministry of Defense rejected the report, saying it does not agree with its interpretation of figures and will not alter its recruitment policy. It added that the report ignored the benefits a military career affords young people.

The report said figures showed that initial training for minors lasts either 23 or 50 weeks while adult recruits can complete a similar ‘‘phase one’’ course in 14 weeks.

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