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France unveils 'voluntary' military service scheme

AFP - French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian meets recruits at a similar scheme in French overseas territory Guadeloupe

Nearly 20 years after compulsory military service was phased out in France, President François Hollande announced Monday the creation of a new voluntary service that aims to give marginalised young people a better start in life.

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Three centres for the new Voluntary Military Service (SMV) will open this year, taking in 1,000 recruits aged 18 to 25 who have dropped out of the educational system and have precarious family situations.

By 2016 the scheme will be operational in seven locations across France and open to 2,000 volunteers.

Their term of service will be between six months and a year, and while being in uniform and living under military discipline, volunteers will receive training in civilian sectors such as hospitality and the building trade.

They will also be drilled in life skills – such as politeness and punctuality – in order to boost their employability.

“Youth is our most important cause,” Hollande said, shortly before announcing yet another rise in the number of unemployed in France, now at a record 3.51 million.

Indeed, the number of places for volunteers in the new scheme is tiny in the face of France’s seemingly never-ending unemployment nightmare.

The situation is particularly worrying for young people aged 18 to 25 (an increase of 1 percent from February) who are finding it increasingly difficult to get into full-time employment.

The new SMV is based on a similar scheme that has been running in France’s overseas territories since 1961, and has proved a boon for recruits who are more likely than their peers to find full-time work when they return to civilian life.

Compulsory military service for young men was phased out in 1996, although French school-leavers, including women, are still obliged to register for possible obligatory service should the need arise.

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