Since 2011, when the German government suspended compulsory military conscription, the number of underage soldiers in the country’s army has tripled. Dozens of recruits under the age of 18 have been reported, even after they finished their probationary period.
The Bundeswehr has never trained as many minors as it did last year, the Rheinische Post newspaper reported.
Over two thousand soldiers under the age of 18 entered the service in 2017, the newspaper wrote, citing the country’s Ministry of Defense.
According to the report, the number of minors in the German army has steadily increased, from 689 in 2011 to the previous record of 1,907 in 2016 and now further to 2,128.
The share of underage young women among soldiers was revealed to be particularly high. It has increased almost eightfold since 2011, reports say.
At the request of a Left Party politician, the Federal Government stated that there were 448 young women among the overall number of underage Bundeswehr soldiers in 2017.
The unwelcome trend is explained by a number of problems within the German army: the Bundeswehr has too few soldiers, most of whom are middle-aged — and thus urgently needs replacements, Der Spiegel reported.
According to the magazine, the German Ministry of Defense spends tens of millions of euro on PR campaigns to attract young people and increasingly recruits teenagers in social networks.
Such practices have been raising severe criticism in German political circles.
For instance, member of the Left party Evrim Sommer told the magazine that as long as Germany recruits minors for military purposes, it has no credibility in criticizing other states using minors in the field of battle.
“Young people should not be used as cannon fodder in the Bundeswehr as soon as they come of age. The German government is endangering its own efforts towards an international ban on the use of child soldiers,” Sommer was quoted by the magazine as saying.
For his part, Wolf-Christian Ramm, representative of the children’s rights group Terre des Hommes International Federation, said that the new figures are “not surprising but disquieting.”
“Of course the Bundeswehr is looking for trainees and personnel-and we’ve got nothing against that,” the human rights activist told DW. “But we’re strictly against 17-year-olds being recruited and trained. They are underage and don’t belong in an army.”
The German leadership agreed to suspend compulsory military service in July 2011. Instead of military conscription, the law now provides for voluntary military service of up to 23 months for both men and women.