A campaign comparing UK army recruitment policies with those in the Third World has embarrassed the Government into action.
Following two years of lobbying by the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the Ministry of Defence is expected to ratify a United Nations protocol preventing the use of children in warfare. A Commons' statement on the matter is promised for next month.
The campaign linked reports about child soldiers fighting in trouble spots such as Sierra Leone with facts about underage soldiers in the UK in order to build up support. Last year a coalition report on underage soldiers in 178 countries, many of which were in the Third World, singled out Britain as one of the worst offenders. At present more than a third of new recruits into the Armed Forces are under 18.
Reports of children fighting among the Sierra Leone rebels with British weapons were seized on by the campaign coalition and fed to the press.
"By putting it in a global perspective and showing that Britain was behind in comparison with other industrialised countries, it meant that the issue was picked up by the press in a different way,
said Amnesty International UK's parliamentary officer Mungo Williams. Previous attempts to campaign against the use of child soldiers by the Armed Forces received a very hostile and defensive press response, he explained.
Veterans' organisations and MPs were brought on board after the coalition presented academic research showing them that child recruitment was unnecessary, said Rory Mungovern, the coalition co-ordinator. "We showed them that the Army's problems were not down to recruitment but retention,