Back to top

Child safety fears over Armed Forces Day as kids invited to handle weapons

A soldier watches as a small child sits at the controls of a machine gun.

Child safety fears over Armed Forces Day as kids invited to handle weapons

Concerned parents have raised the alarm over “family” events for Armed Forces Day tomorrow, which will portray weapons and violence as glamorous and fun.

The vast majority of events for Armed Forces Day involve no restriction on the age at which a child can be invited to handle real weapons. In previous years, the day has seen children as young as 6 or 7 invited to sit at the controls of artillery pieces, tanks and military aircraft (the photograph was taken at Armed Forces Day National Event in Llandudno in 2018).

Parents have told the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain's leading pacifist organisation, that they are worried about children being presented with an unrealistic image of weapons and war as clean and exciting. They fear that it could have a negative effect on children's emotional wellbeing and encourage them to trust in the use of violence.

Teachers and young people have also spoken with the PPU about their objections to Armed Forces Day celebrations in schools.

Armed Forces Day events will take place across the UK this weekend, with the National Event – which is held in a different place every year – taking place in Falmouth. Concerned locals in Falmouth will stage a Peace Parade to coincide with the military parade in the city tomorrow morning.

Armed Forces Day began in 2009, in the wake of public opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of other initiatives began around the same time that also promoted militarism in everyday life, including an increase in military visits to schools and multi-million pound funding for new cadet forces from 2012.

The Peace Pledge Union is urging local councils to follow the example of Leicester, where local authorities prevent armed forces from inviting children to handle weapons, following a campaign by local residents.

Ed, father of two primary-age children in Cardiff, said:

"Parents spend a lot of time and emotional energy reinforcing to children the message that violence isn't the right way to solve problems. But that message is massively diluted at Armed Forces Day events where they are encouraged to think that violence is the answer to the world's ills. It flies in the face of everything we should be teaching the next generation."

Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the Peace Pledge Union, who is travelling to Falmouth to support local protests, said:

I do not want my 5-year-old goddaughter to be exposed to events at which weapons are treated as toys. Every year on Armed Forces Day, I have seen children who are too young to use a kettle unsupervised invited to sit at the controls of guns and tanks. No-one will show them what people look like when these weapons are used against them. While people in Ukraine and Yemen are wounded and killed with deadly weapons, children in the UK will be encouraged to view those weapons as fun and exciting.

Armed Forces Day promotes war by the back door, with difficult questions about recent wars and the abuse of young recruits swept under the carpet. There are so many better things we could be celebrating this weekend.”

The Peace Pledge Union is supporting action by local groups in Cornwall, including Cornwall Quakers and Cornwall Resists, who are challenging the Armed Forces Day National Event. They are also suppoted by other national groups such as Forces Watch, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Quakers in Britain.

The Peace Pledge Union is the British section of War Resisters' International and works with peace campaigners around the world to resist all war and militarism. In the last year, the PPU has been liaising with peace activists in Russia and Ukraine and publicising the actions of Russian peace activists protesting against Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

At the national level, Armed Forces Day has been criticised by groups including the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Forces Watch, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Quakers in Britain.

How can you challenge Armed Forces Day? Find out here!