Friday, June 01, 2007

"Voices of play and pleasure"

posted by k

There were children playing in the fountains. It was a hot, half-term day. And the recruiters were in town.

We're having a panic about paedophiles at the moment: people who take children away and hurt them. Yet no-one seemed worried by the smiling men and women in uniform, luring the children with shiny toys and promises of adventure. Even small children went forward, encouraged by their parents if they seemed shy. They wanted to share the adventure.

It was all about half-term fun. The Royal Air Force was offering more than most parents can afford and children queued - alone or with their parents - so that they could clamber over the fancy toys.

There were guns too.

In 1996, almost all handguns were banned in the United Kingdom. So some really big guns were a rare treat. Small children gazed and took turns to handle them. They were shown how to hold them in the correct position and look through the sights at a target.

The biggest treat of all was the shiny red aircraft. Grown-ups and children queued to climb into the cockpit and hear all about it.

Article 38 of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that no country should recruit children under 15 years of age into its armed forces. In 2000 an optional protocol was drawn up to discourage recruitment of young people under 18. Young people under 18 are not supposed to take part in armed conflict. (So far fifteen 17-year-olds have served in Iraq with the British Army.)

Army recruiters are busy in schools
- especially schools in poor areas. Teachers are annoyed - especially since primary schools are included in recuitment visits. Parents are allowed to remove their children from religious education classes, acts of worship and sex education. My children's schools have never warned parents in advance that the army is sending recruiters with a day of activities or a recruitment talk.

Organisations like the Air Cadets take children from the age of 13, involve them in exciting activities (flying, target shooting, life saving ...) and groom them for a life in the army.

Children - some still in pushchairs - enjoyed the display in the square. There were stalls promoting all sorts of aspects of life in the air force. There were placards, banners, leaflets, stickers - all about fun, careers, friendship, training and pay. None of them mentioned killing. None of them mentioned being killed.

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