SCOTLAND’S children and young people's commissioner has said young people from deprived backgrounds should not be targeted by the military for recruitment and that visits by the Armed Forces to schools should be more tightly regulated, as MSPs prepare to consider proposed restrictions.
Tam Baillie also called for an outright ban on the recruitment of under 18s to the military, something which under existing Ministry of Defence (MoD) rules can only take place with parental consent and away from school grounds.
The MoD claims that military representatives only go into schools to give presentations, citizenship talks, hold meetings with staff, participate in career events, practice interviews and hold activities with the students, such as science and maths challenges, as well as indoor or outdoor exercises.
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Holyrood's public petitions committee could make a decision this Thursday on taking forward a proposal from military recruitment watchdog Forces Watch and Quakers in Scotland that would to see the Armed Forces subjected to more scrutiny when entering classrooms.
The moves began following a Sunday Herald investigation early this year which revealed Tory plans to create military cadet units in state schools in Scotland's most deprived areas. The idea was attacked by a senior SNP source as an attempt to recruit vulnerable children as British Army 'cannon fodder'.
Forces Watch and Quakers in Scotland have launched a joint petition at Holyrood, which also calls for children to be given a balanced view of what a military career entails.
Quakers in Scotland and Forces Watch have sought guidance on how school visits should be conducted to ensure "political balance and offer a realistic representation of the role of the armed forces and what a career in the armed forces involves".
However, in a written submission to the committee meeting ahead of its meeting Thursday, Tam Baillie, echoed the concerns, calling for "clear national guidance about the content of such visits" and when and where they should taken place.
He said: "In my opinion, no child under the age of 18 should be recruited to the UK armed forces, a view that is echoed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in the strongest possible terms.
Baillie also said the military authorities had to do more to make "fully aware of the risks associated with a career in the armed forces".
He also called for more "balanced information" to be made available to young people in schools about the reality of life in the UK's armed forces.
Baillie said: "There should be clear national guidance about the content of such visits and when and where they are to be conducted.
"I am particularly keen, for example, to ensure that young people living in more deprived areas are not disproportionately targeted by such visits."
He added: "I acknowledge that the armed forces can hold a great attraction for some young people, as a means of travelling the world and providing access to training and qualifications that may not be available to them elsewhere.
"It is vital, however, that these young people know exactly what they are signing up to, and are fully aware of the risks associated with a career in the armed forces.
"As has been stated by the petitioners, recruitment to the armed forces is quite different to that for other careers, including other uniformed roles, with whom many parallels have been drawn.
"It involves a young person entering into a lengthy contract, from which it is difficult for them to withdraw after an initial period."
Forces Watch and Quakers in Scotland are hoping that MSPs will refer the matter to Holyrood's education committee, with the prospect of greater guidance being issued or legislation passed to govern military visits to schools.
However, the UK's Armed Forces minister Mike Penning insisted that armed forces personnel only ever attended schools after invitations from teachers.
Penning, in a letter to the petitions committee, said: "Our Armed Forces never visit schools for recruitment purposes and would only ever visit a school after being invited by a teacher to support school activities.
"No pupil or school student is ever signed-up or otherwise makes a commitment to become a recruit into the Armed Forces during the course of any school visit by our representatives.
"The Armed Forces do not intend to phase out the recruitment of personnel who are under the age of 18. Our recruiting policy is absolutely clear. No one under the age of 18 can join the Armed Forces without formal parental consent, which is checked twice during the application process. In addition, parents and guardians are positively encouraged to engage with the recruiting staff during the process."
A Scottish Government statement, issued ahead of Thursday's meeting, said: "It is for each school to decide whether the armed forces have a role to play in their school in terms of offering positive educational and developmental opportunities for pupils. This is entirely separate from the forces’ recruitment activities.
"Local authorities and schools are responsible for considering the arrangements under which any potential employer offers professional advice on career opportunities to pupils. This should be appropriate to their age and maturity and be done in a way which does not seek to exert undue or inappropriate influence."