What are the government's National Service plans, how it could impact your teens and which countries already have it?

 Soldiers marching in a line.
Soldiers marching in a line.

The government has controversially announced the potential return of National Service - here's how it could impact your teen, and which countries have the scheme in place.

The current government continues to make contentious suggestions, now adding the prospect of National Service to the list. Having already raised school fines that could see an increase in parents being fined, prosecuted and imprisoned for unauthorised school absences, it's also made a divisive stance on teaching gender identity.

Now, Rishi Sunak and his Conservative party have unveiled plans for all 18-year-olds to undertake National Service. This would involve either taking a full-time role in the armed forces for one year, or volunteering within their local community. Voluntary placements would take place one weekend every month, involving working with the NHS, police, the fire service, or charities.

There will be 30,000 full-time military training places available, and teens will be selected following a testing programme to find the most suitable candidates. This pathway wouldn't involve combat, instead teaching logistics and cyber security, among other operations. It's also different to conscription, which is a legal requirement to join the Armed Forces for a certain time. A year spent in in the military will also be paid, whereas volunteering with remain just that - unpaid as other voluntary roles are.

"Rishi Sunak and his Conservative party have unveiled plans for all 18-year-olds to undertake National Service. This would involve either taking a full-time role in the armed forces, or volunteering within their local community."

Although there are currently no firm policies in place for the scheme, exemptions will apply - although what these will be remain unknown. One particular family not exempt will be the Royals, and Royal children will be expected to take part in the programme.

It's worth noting National Service will only return in the Conservatives are re-elected, and wouldn't be implemented until September 2025 if they win. Other parties have ridiculed the idea, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branding it "a sort of teenage Dad's Army", and Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall referring to it as an "unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick."

Will parents be fined if their teenagers don't take part in National Service?

Reports are currently conflicted, as Home Secretary James Cleverly suggests those who refuse to take part won't face any consequences. Speaking to Sky News, he says "There's going to be no criminal sanctions. Nobody will be compelled to do the military element."

However, this appears to be in direct contrast to comments made by Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who says she won't rule out the possibility of parents being fined if their children do not take part. The minister also alludes to the future employment implications for teens who refuse to comply with the scheme.

During a Times Radio interview, Trevelyan said: "The premise has been clear: we would bring in a National Service Act, so that would be in the same way that Labour did when educational training to 18 was brought in. Employers would be clear that they would look to see what you had done, This would become part of the normal toolkit that young people would present as they go through their careers."

Which countries have National Service?

Many countries have some form of National Service, and the requirements are quite varied between countries. It's currently in place in the following places:

  • Algeria

  • Angola 

  • Argentina

  • Armenia

  • Austria 

  • Azerbaijan

  • Belarus

  • Belize

  • Benin

  • Bhutan

  • Bolivia

  • Brazil

  • Cambodia 

  • Cape Verde/Cabo Verde 

  • Chad

  • Chile

  • China 

  • Colombia 

  • Congo (Democratic Republic of) 

  • Cuba

  • Cyprus

  • Denmark

  • Egypt

  • El Salvador

  • Equatorial Guinea

  • Eritrea

  • Estonia

  • Ethiopia 

  • Finland 

  • Georgia

  • Greece

  • Guatemala

  • Guinea-Bissau

  • Indonesia

  • Iran

  • Israel 

  • Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire 

  • Jordan 

  • Kazakhstan 

  • Kuwait 

  • Kyrgyzstan 

  • Laos 

  • Lithuania 

  • Mali

  • Mexico

  • Moldova

  • Mongolia

  • Morocco

  • Mozambique 

  • Myanmar (Burma) 

  • Niger 

  • North Korea 

  • Norway

  • Paraguay

  • Poland

  • Portugal

  • Qatar 

  • Russia

  • San Marinojure 

  • Sao Tome and Principe 

  • Senegal 

  • Singapore

  • Slovakia

  • Somalia

  • South Korea 

  • South Sudan 

  • Spain 

  • Sudan

  • Sweden

  • Switzerland 

  • Syria

  • Taiwan

  • Tajikistan

  • Tanzania

  • Thailand 

  • Timor Leste 

  • Tunisi

  • Turkmenistan 

  • Ukraine

  • United Arab Emirates

  • United States

  • Uruguay

  • Uzbekistan

  • Venezuela 

  • Vietnam

For some countries, including Russia, all men can be required to complete 12 months of military service when they turn 18. The system works differently in other countries; France for example, has a scheme aimed at all 15 to 17-year-olds involving a 12-day residential stay and 84 hours of volunteer work at a public service establishment.

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