The MoD have been trying to recruit 16-year-olds for the lowest qualified and least popular roles in the army according to campaigners.
Recruitment material from the British Army has been used to target “stressed and vulnerable” 16-year-olds via social media on and around GCSE results day.
The UK is one of only 46 countries who recruit under-18s and is the only European state which allow people to join the army at 16.
The Guardian reports: Paid-for Facebook messages suggested to 16-year-olds that a career in the army would still be open to them if they did not get the grades they hoped for.
Campaigners against the recruitment of child soldiers accused the army of cynically trying to recruit young people at a time when they are worried about their results and future prospects.
Rachel Taylor, the director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, said: “Targeting army advertisements at teenagers when they are stressed and vulnerable is abhorrent. These adverts prove once again that the MoD is deliberately targeting children at the lowest limit of the legal recruitment age to fill the lowest qualified, least popular and hardest-to-recruit army roles.
“Using Facebook to target the country’s young people unwittingly and exploiting the anxiety of those who may be disappointed with their GCSE results with idealised and unrealistic advertisements is shameful.”
The Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said: “The government’s recruitment ads on social media tell young people that exam results don’t matter. If they truly have potential army recruits’ best interests at heart, they should prioritise their education budget over the army’s social media budget.”
There has been growing concern about some of the army’s tactics for drawing in new recruits. The Guardian revealed last year that it had targeted young people from working-class backgrounds in a glossy recruitment campaign called This Is Belonging, despite claiming to aim advertising at all socioeconomic groups.
New information released after a written parliamentary question by Saville Roberts revealed that the army spent £1.7m on social media content between 2015 and 2017, the vast bulk of it on Facebook.
Examination of the links to some of the posts reveal that some young people have been targeted in the run-up to GCSE results and on the day itself. Just before results day in August 2015, for example, a Facebook post said: “No matter what your results will be, you can still improve yourself in the army.” It was accompanied by an image of two soldiers on a quad bike riding through surf on a shingle beach.
On 20 August, results day, an image of a young soldier happily driving a military vehicle appeared with the same message.
The following August the army told young people via Facebook: “Whatever happens on results day, we’ll help you learn, earn and stand on your own two feet.” The image showed an open-topped army vehicle during a beautiful sunset or sunrise. Readers were encouraged to click on to a button that took them through to the This is Belonging campaign.
On exam day itself the message appeared: “Got your GCSE results? With 200+ roles available, talk to us about your next step today.”
Not all Facebook users were taken in. One replied: “Yes man … If I get Fs in all my subjects I’ll get an A in the army.” Another wrote: “I love how they time this just before results day!”