If your child wants to join the army aged 16 or 17 then they’ll need your permission first. There are good reasons to wait until your child turns 18, which is what many parents do. Whichever choice you make, this page is based on the questions we’re most often asked.
What this page covers
- What’s the best age to join up?
- Will my child go to war?
- My daughter wants to join – what should I know?
- How does parental consent work?
- What if my child wants to leave?
Which age is best to join?
There are some downsides to joining at 16 or 17. Read on to see why…
Joining aged 16 or 17
Figures from the Ministry of Defence show that a recruit aged 16 or 17 is:
- More likely to be get a frontline job in the infantry or armoured corps, where training and education are more basic than many other army jobs and the risks in war are much higher.
- More likely to drop out of training, leaving them out of education and out of a job and, if they don’t drop out of training, less likely to be promoted through the ranks.
Joining at 16 or 17 also means missing out on the two years of extra full-time education to age 18, which almost all young people now complete.
Younger recruits are more vulnerable to the army’s rough edges – bullying and harassment are common and are harder to deal with at a younger age.
Joining aged 18 or over
If your child waits until they turn 18, then they:
- Will have more army jobs to choose from (and more jobs in the navy and air force too).
- Will be less likely to be injured or to drop out during training.
- Will have had more of a chance to finish full-time education and get good qualifications for the future.
- Will be more mature, better able to make the right decision, and also better able to cope with some of the downsides of army life.
- Will get to decide for themselves to join up, as an adult, without having to ask for your permission.
If you want your child to wait until they’re older before they sign up, some of these points might help when you explain your decision.
Will my child be sent to war?
When they turn 18 your child can be sent to war.
During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, almost all (adult) soldiers were sent out (deployed) at some point, often more than once.
Outside of major military operations, your child is still likely to be deployed abroad for long periods on, for example, peacekeeping operations, which are typically less dangerous.
A deployment usually lasts six months with a break in the middle.
My daughter wants to join the army – what do I need to know?
How many women and girls does the army have?
The ratio of men to women is about 9:1.
If your daughter joins the army, she’ll normally be in a single-sex platoon until she finishes training, when she’ll join a mixed unit of men and women.
How safe is the army for women and girls?
Although the army is genuinely trying to deal with sexual harassment and assault, its own figures show the problem has been getting worse.
In 2021, a THIRD of women in the army said they’d had at least one ‘particularly upsetting experience’ of sexual harassment or assault in the previous 12 months. That’s about 2,800 women.
In the same year, one in twenty women in the army said a man had tried to sexually assault her in the last 12 months.
Girls under 18 and women of low rank are most likely to be targeted – often by older men of more senior rank. In 2021, one in six girls aged under 18 were victims of sexual offences in the armed forces. Girls under 18 in the army are TWICE as likely as civilian girls of the same age to report a sexual assault or rape.
In 2016, the advice of one female officer to women and girls joining up was:
‘You are going into a male dominated environment. You should all be aspiring to meet the male standard. If you want to be respected by the males you are going to be working alongside, this is what you need to do.’
It’s important to realise also that many women enjoy being in the army even though they face these problems, and shouldn’t have to.
Parental consent rules
If your child is under 18, they need your formal consent to join up – your signature on a form.
IMPORTANT: Once your child enlists with your consent, you can’t withdraw your consent afterwards.
How consent works
If you know already that you’re not willing to give your consent, it can be best all round to make this clear before your child builds up their expectations. They can of course wait to age 18 and join up then without need of your consent.
But if you are thinking of consenting, this is what you need to know:
- In practice, your child can begin their application to join up without your consent.
- If the application goes to the next stage, then your child will be invited to spend a weekend at Recruit Selection, where potential recruits are tested for health and fitness before they’re offered a job. (Your child does need your consent to go to this, but consenting to this doesn’t mean you’re also consenting to your child joining up. That comes later.)
- If all goes well, the army makes a job offer for a specific army role. If your child accepts, they’re given a date to start training, which is also usually when they enlist (formally join up). You’ll be sent a consent form to sign and bring along on the day – without this, your child can’t enlist.
- (If your child accepts the job offer for a specific army role, they CAN’T change this afterwards, whatever recruiters may say.)
- Once you hand in the consent form on enlistment day, your child enlists. When they leave the room and you go home, they’re in the army.
My child lives with both their parents. Do we both need to sign?
Yes. If the child lives with both parents, then both parents must consent for the enlistment to ahead.
If one parent withholds consent then the enlistment SHOULDN’T go ahead. That parent can challenge and stop the enlistment if it does.
My partner and I are separated and my child lives with only one of us. Who needs to sign?
If the child lives with only one parent, then that parent’s consent is needed.
If that parent withholds consent, then the enlistment SHOULDN’T go ahead, even if the other parent consents to it.
My child is in care. Who needs to sign?
If the child is living in care with one or more legal guardians, then they must consent for the enlistment to go ahead.
My child is living on their own. Who needs to sign?
In very rare cases where the child lives neither with their parents nor in care, then either parent or the legal guardian can sign.
If no parents or legal guardian can be found for the child, then any adult they are living with can sign instead.
One important exception
If the father has lost parental responsibility, then they are not eligible to sign. In this case, only the mother can sign.
The only situation in which mothers may lose parental responsibility is when their child gets married under the age of 18. The regulations don’t say what should happen in this situation. If you’re in this situation, let us know and we’ll find out what the army usually does.
What happens when parents can’t agree on whether to consent?
We get a lot of emails asking this. Very often, the father favours a child’s enlistment and the mother opposes it.
If you have parental responsibility for a child who wants to join the army, then:
- If your child lives with both you and the other parent, OR they live only with you, AND if you have not consented to the child’s enlistment yourself, then the enlistment SHOULDN’T go ahead. You can instruct the army to stop it. And if the enlistment has happened without proper consent, then you can still reverse it any time up to three months after the day of the enlistment.
- In the following circumstances, you can also take the matter to a court and ask a judge to make a decision in the child’s best interests:
- If your child lives with the other parent and not with you, and you have not consented to the enlistment yourself.
- If your child lives with the other parent and not with you, and you want to give consent but the other parent is withholding it.
- If your child lives with both you and the other parent and you can’t agree on whether to consent together.
‘Parental responsibility’. A mother always has parental responsibility, even if they don’t live with their child (unless the child is married). The same usually goes for fathers, too (a court can remove parental responsibility from a father but this is rare.) This means that in most circumstances, either parent can object to their child’s enlistment, if they want to. Also in most cases, either parent can object to the other parent when the other parent is withholding consent to enlistment, if they want to.
The regulations online
If you want to check the consent regulations online, you can here – look for paragraph 5.
Can my child leave the army after they’ve joined up?
Your child is not allowed to leave the army during the first six weeks. It’s against the law to leave in this time, although the army hasn’t prosecuted anyone under 18 for doing this for quite a while.
After the first six months, if your child has turned 18 then there is no right to leave at all until age 22.
If you can, be sure at the beginning that you definitely want your child to sign up. Once your child has applied he or she will be hoping to enlist and so it can hard to change your mind half-day through the process, although you can at any point up to enlistment day.
Remember: If you’re not sure about signing your child into the army, there’s nothing wrong with asking them to wait – a lot of parents do this. Joining at 18 or over is generally the better choice for your child and the safer one.
If you have any questions about this then you or your child can contact us.