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Volume 456: debated on Thursday 1 February 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many (a) 16, (b) 17 and (c) 18-year-olds have served in Iraq, broken down by gender. (117280)

Data on the age and sex of service personnel deployed on operations are not held centrally.

Provisional estimates collated from manual records show that no 16-year-old and fifteen 17-year-old personnel have been deployed to Iraq since the “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child on the involvement of children in armed conflict” was ratified on 24 June 2003. None have been deployed since July 2005.

Fewer than five of the 17-year-old personnel deployed were female.

The vast majority of those that were deployed were within one week of their 18th birthdays or were removed from theatre within a week of their arrival. Fewer than five 17-year-olds were deployed for a period of greater than three weeks.

New administrative guidelines and procedures have been introduced by each of the Services following the ratification of the Optional Protocol to ensure that under 18-year-old personnel are not deployed to areas where hostilities are taking place unless there is a clear operational requirement for them to do so. Unfortunately, these processes are not infallible and the pressures on units prior to deployment have meant that there have been a small number of instances where soldiers have been inadvertently deployed to Iraq before their 18th birthday, as described above.

Figures on those aged 18 could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

All numbers are rounded to the nearest five.