Soldiers serving in Afghanistan who joined the Army at 16 are twice as likely to die than those who joined at 18 or above, a new report has claimed.
Human rights groups Child Soldiers International and Forces Watch, who were behind the study, said the increased risk reflected the “disproportionately high” number of 16-year- olds who join front-line infantry roles.
The Army’s recruitment policies drive young people with limited academic qualifications into the most dangerous roles because they are unable to enter less risky support or technical positions, the report’s authors said.
A greater number of tours of duty in Afghanistan by soldiers who joined the Army at 16 was also a probable contributing factor, they added.
The Ministry of Defence said it disputed the figures and claimed it was “wrong and misleading” to suggest that the Army channels minors into the most dangerous roles.
The study looked at the deaths of 209 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan between October 2001 and March 31, 2013.
It found the risk of fatality in Afghanistan to soldiers who enlisted aged 16 between 1999-00 and 2008-09 was 1.92 per 1,000, compared with 1.32 per 1,000 for those who enlisted at 17 and 1.33 per 1,000 for those who enlisted aged 18 or above.
When comparing age groups, the report found soldiers who enlisted at 16 and completed training were about twice as likely to die in Afghanistan as those enlisting at 18 or above.