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Military expelled from schools

School Students Against War (SSAW) has been campaigning against the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan since the inspiring two-million strong demonstrations and student walkouts in 2003.

In that time we, young people all under the age of 19, have organised many successful anti- war actions, public meetings, demonstrations and events, as well as ensuring a vibrant, strong school student presence at every major demonstration.

Child soldiers

SSAW's recent campaign against military recruitment in schools and colleges has been driven by imaginative and determined nonviolent protest. We use non- violence on all levels of our work - from die-ins in bloodstained suits to awareness-raising discussions and film showings.

Army recruiters have a seemingly limitless supply of glossy pamphlets and fliers, playing up military service as a fun, glamorous experience. Reading these leaflets, you would be forgiven for getting the impression that no one ever really gets hurt in the army, that it's all just like an exciting video game. The information given to both teenagers and their parents by the army is often misleading, the terms of service complex and confusing. Young people are pushed to sign up into the army when they are only 16, the youngest age in Europe. However there is a growing feeling throughout Britain that the army's increased targeting of minors is wrong.

Fighting the army

In the past, the army has even sent recruitment officers into schools. SSAW members have organised nonviolent disruptions and protests to counter this. We have worked both in our local areas, picketing outside recruitment centres, and in schools, engaging with students and raising awareness.

In Edinburgh last year, SSAW members within Boroughmuir High were told of a visit from military recruiters the following day. “We printed out some leaflets that evening and picketed the meeting the next day,” said student Patrick Orr, “Many students entering the meeting talked to us, and we convinced half the people to leave. There have not been any similar events since.”

Raw recruiters

In Liverpool, SSAW member Becca Odman Stonehouse was notified by a member of staff that the army was planning to come into her school. Working with both students and teachers, she planned disruptions to the sessions, handing out leaflets and even a lunchtime protest. On hearing this, the recruitment officers decided not to show up at all.

In the first week of January, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a high-profile report, analysing in depth the tactics of military recruiters in Britain.

Serious injury or death?

This report has confirmed that recruitment of non-officers to the army focuses disproportionately on young people, especially those living in economically deprived areas. Many recruits are joining as a perceived last resort, and the report concludes that although many may benefit from the discipline and training, these are also the people most vulnerable to the risks of army service, those ones that you probably won't find in a shiny MoD leaflet: “Bullying and harassment, career dissatisfaction... mental health and relationship problems, serious injury or death, social and economic disadvantages after discharge, and unexpected ethical challenges”, to name a few.

Something that is clearer than the MoD publications however, has been the powerful potential of nonviolent campaigning as a tool for real, hard-hitting change on this issue, and many others.

Tali Janner-Klausner is convenor of School Students Against War http://www.ssaw.co.uk/