Young germans at arms

Young germans at arms

Soldier in the Bundeswehr © Bernd von Jutrczenka

Soldiers under 18: in the Bundeswehr in 2017, more than 2.000 Minors Trained at Arms. Church representatives and leftists criticize this practice – and remind us that the use of child soldiers is internationally outlawed.

In the Bundeswehr, the number of soldiers under 18 is growing. According to a response from the Ministry of Defense to a question from the Left Party, obtained by the Evangelischer Pressedienst (epd), last year 2.128 soldiers not yet of age when they enter service, including 448 young women. The Bundeswehr thus trained more minors in arms than ever before.

Since the suspension of compulsory military service, this number has risen steadily, according to the German government: In 2011, there were 689 soldiers under 18; in 2016, there were 1 in the ranks of the Bundeswehr.907 minors. Even after completing their six-month probationary period, 90 soldiers were still under the age of majority last year.

Criticism from church representatives

The Left Party and church representatives criticized this development. The Protestant military bishop Sigurd Rink told the epd that the training of young people as soldiers is explosive because it at least calls into question the idea of a parliamentary army if people without the right to vote become soldiers. He emphasized: "There must be no child soldiers in the Bundeswehr." A reasonable alternative, he said, could be to send school leavers to do a year of community service.

The chairman of the Protestant Working Group for Conscientious Objection and Peace (EAK), Christoph Munchow, called the development "frightening". "It borders on double standards when people in Germany protest against the use of child soldiers in Africa or Asia, but at the same time the Bundeswehr recruits minors as soldiers," he told the epd.

Hans-Peter Bartels (SPD), the Bundestag's defense commissioner, expressed understanding in the radio program SWR Aktuell for the fact that the Bundeswehr does not want to lose young people "if they apply after school and are not yet 18.". However, he also emphasized: "This must remain the exception."

Evrim Sommer, a member of the Left Party, accused Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) of having no qualms about bringing forward the recruitment of new recruits. As long as Germany itself recruits minors for military purposes, it cannot credibly criticize other states for doing so. "The German government is thus jeopardizing its own efforts to internationally outlaw the use of child soldiers," Sommer explained.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

While the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states in Article 38: "States Parties shall refrain from conscripting persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces."However, a somewhat vaguely worded additional protocol states that the minimum age for voluntary recruitment should also be raised further, as persons under 18 are entitled to special protection.

In addition, the term child soldiers is defined in the so-called Paris Principles, to which, in addition to Germany, more than 100 countries have committed themselves, as follows: They are children affiliated with armed forces and armed groups – thus any person under 18 who is engaged in any kind of activity in an armed force or armed group, whether as a combatant or also as a cook, porter, messenger, spy, or for sexual purposes.

In its response to the left-wing question, the Defense Ministry emphasizes the voluntary nature of the training of young people and explains that all underage soldiers can revoke their service at any time within the six-month probationary period without giving any reason.

A ministry spokeswoman also pointed out that the majority of school leavers are not of legal age. Suitable applicants would also be recruited at the age of 17 at the earliest and then only with the consent of their guardians. Until they reach the age of majority, they are subject to special protection and would not be called up for guard duty or foreign missions, for example.

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Christina Cherry
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