Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence. The police generally respond promptly and appropriately to reported incidents, and the judicial system effectively enforced the law.
Although no specific statute defines spousal rape as illegal, the Supreme Court acknowledged marital rape as illegal. The penalty for rape ranges from a minimum of three years’ to life imprisonment depending on the specific circumstances. Authorities effectively investigated and prosecuted rape, although in some cases victims dropped charges against perpetrators after reaching a financial settlement with the alleged perpetrator.
The law defines domestic violence as a serious crime and authorizes authorities to order offenders to stay away from victims for up to six months. This order may be extended up to two years. Offenders may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison and fined up to seven million won ($6,030) for domestic violence offenses. Noncompliance with domestic violence restraining orders may result in a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to 20 million won ($17,230). Authorities may also place offenders on probation or order them to see court-designated counselors.
When there is a danger of domestic violence recurring and an immediate need for protection, the law allows a provisional order to be issued ex officio or at the victim’s request. This may restrict the subject of the order from living in the same home, approaching within 109 yards of the victim, or contacting the victim through telecommunication devices.
Domestic violence occurred in 45.6 percent of all families, according to 2015 statistics (the most recent available) from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The Women’s Human Rights Commission reported a higher 53.3 percent. According to an August report by the Women’s Human Rights Commission of Korea, the number of domestic violence cases reported to the emergency hotline for violence against women in 2015 increased by 15.6 percent from the same period in 2014. The number of cases of reported violence in nonmarital relationships increased by 31.7 percent.
Approximately 21,270 registered couples had a foreign spouse, 69 percent of whom were foreign wives. A government-funded emergency call center for multicultural families received more than 17,950 calls pertaining to domestic violence, among which 266 callers requested assistance with transferring to a shelter.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family funded integrated support centers for victims of sexual violence called “sunflower centers,” providing counseling, medical care and therapy, case investigations, and legal assistance. As of July, there were 36 “sunflower centers” and 100 smaller counseling centers nationwide. Other government-subsidized and nonsubsidized counseling centers operated across the country. These provided victims with free medical services, legal services, support during investigations and trials, and therapy and rehabilitation programs. A number of the facilities offered specialized services for victims with disabilities. The KNPA established a 24-hour center staffed by police officers, counselors, and nurses to provide comprehensive care to victims of sexual violence. There were also protection facilities for victims of sexual violence, including for victims with disabilities and for child and juvenile victims. The government managed family protection facilities for domestic violence victims and their children over the age of 10. The government also operated protection facilities and maintained a hotline for migrant women victims of domestic violence. The government supported group home facilities, which provided counseling, job referral, and vocational training for victims. Anti-domestic violence programs took place in all elementary and secondary schools and in local and national government offices.
In January the government launched a comprehensive action plan across several ministries to prevent sexual violence. The KNPA’s Sexual Violence Special Investigation Team expanded in March to become the Women and Juveniles Investigation Office, which included 240 police officers and involved 251 different police stations nationwide. In May the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family established new mandatory regulations in the Act on the Prevention of Sexual Violence to require central and local governments to implement preventive measures by November. District and metropolitan police agencies across the country implemented Special Measures to Ensure Women’s Safety for three months from June to August in response to increasing concerns about public safety after a man who espoused misogynistic messages murdered a woman in a restroom near Gangnam Station in May. As a part of these special measures, the KNPA operated a smartphone app for reporting cases and installed additional surveillance cameras, street lamps, and emergency bells in public spaces.
The law allows judges or a Ministry of Justice committee to sentence repeat sex offenders to chemical castration. Ten chemical castrations were performed in the first half of the year.
Sexual Harassment: The law obligates companies and organizations to take preventive measures against sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law effectively (see section 7.d.). The KNPA classifies sexual harassment as “indecent acts by compulsion.” There were numerous cases of sexual harassment reported in the media throughout the year.
Civil remedies are generally available for sexual harassment claims, and education about sexual harassment was widely available nationwide. Administrative remedies at public institutions are also available.
Reproductive Rights: The law allows couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception and maternal health services, including skilled attendance during childbirth, emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion, prenatal care, and essential obstetric and postpartum care, were widely accessible and available.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights under the constitution as men. The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed the gender pay gap was 36.6 percent in 2014 (see section 7.d.). The law permits a woman to head a household, recognizes a wife’s right to a portion of a couple’s property, and allows a woman to maintain contact with her children after a divorce. Custody cases were decided on their merits, with women often gaining custody. The law also allows a remarried woman to change the family name of her children to her new husband’s name.
Birth Registration: Citizenship requires one parent be a citizen at the time of birth. Authorities also grant citizenship in circumstances where parentage is unclear or if the child would otherwise be stateless. Parents go to a district office to register their children’s births. The law requires all children to be registered in family registries and prohibits adoption of children for the first week after birth.
In May the Ministry of Justice revised the family registration act to allow local governments to register children whose parents refused or failed to do so. The revised law, designed to improve the accuracy of family registers and extend protection and benefits to children who would be otherwise unregistered, came into effect in November.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes serious injury and repeated abuse of children, provides prison terms of between five years and life, and no longer allows for suspended sentences in cases resulting in death. In 2015 the Ministry for Health and Welfare reported a 16.8 percent increase in child abuses cases compared to 2014. The number of reported abuse cases in orphanages and other child welfare facilities nearly doubled, from 180 in 2014 to 331 in 2015. The ministry operated 60 facilities and 53 shelters to treat and protect victims of child abuse and ran programs for families designed to prevent reoccurrence. The government established a 24-hour online counseling center for victims of child abuse.
Several cases of severe child abuse were reported in the media during the year, including high-profile child murder cases in January, February, and March. In August a man and woman received sentences of 30 years and 20 years in prison, respectively, for beating their seven-year-old son to death. Police investigation revealed the couple also abused their daughter and had stored the son’s corpse in the refrigerator since his death in October 2012.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for men and women to marry is 18. There were no reported cases of forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 13. It is illegal to deceive or pressure anyone under 19 into having sexual intercourse. Children, however, were vulnerable to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation through online recruitment. Some runaway girls, in particular, were subjected to sex trafficking.
The penalty for rape of a minor under age 13 ranges from 10 years to life in prison; the penalty for rape of a minor age 13 to 19 is five years to life. Other penalties include electronic monitoring of offenders, public release of their personal information, and reversible hormonal treatment (chemical castration).
The law prohibits child pornography. Offenders who produce or possess it for the purpose of selling, renting, or distributing it for profit are subject to a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment. In addition, any possessor of child pornography may be fined up to 20 million won ($17,230).
The KNPA reported that cases of sexual violence committed against children decreased slightly, from 1,161 in 2014 to 1,118 in 2015.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family maintained centers that provided counseling, treatment, and legal assistance to child victims of sexual violence.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The country has a small Jewish population consisting almost entirely of expatriates. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. An “Act on Guarantee of Rights and Support for Developmentally Disabled Persons” went into force in November 2015 and created a special task force of prosecutors and police trained to work with persons with disabilities and their families in police investigations. The government implemented laws and programs to facilitate access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Many local government ordinances and regulations still directly discriminate against persons with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and mental disabilities, according to media reports and NGOs. The National Human Rights Commission reported 512 discrimination cases against persons with disabilities in the first half of the year.
The law establishes penalties for deliberate discrimination of up to three years in prison and a fine of 30 million won ($25,840). The Ministry of Health and Welfare continued to implement a comprehensive set of policies that included encouraging public and private buildings and facilities to provide barrier-free access, providing part time employment, and employing a task force to introduce a long-term care system. The government operated rehabilitation hospitals in six regions and a national rehabilitation research center to increase opportunities and access for persons with disabilities.
The rate of involuntary commitment to a mental institution was unusually high. In 2013, 75.9 percent of commitments were involuntary, and among these, 63.5 percent were by family members. In May the Mental Health Act was revised following a Constitutional Court ruling in January that the legal provisions for involuntary institutionalization were unconstitutional. Previously, a person could be hospitalized involuntarily with the consent of two guardians and the advice of a neuropsychiatrist. The revision now requires the consent of two psychiatrists.
In August a man with intellectual disabilities was reunited with his family after 19 years of forced labor on a cattle farm less than 10 miles from his home. Ko Young-soo first arrived at the farm after being lured there by a cattle trader; he lived in a windowless storage room and received no wages for 19 years. Police found Ko when he escaped to a nearby factory in July. The couple operating the farm was indicted on criminal charges and faced prison sentences of up to 15 years. In an effort to prevent additional cases of forced labor, North Chungcheong province investigated the whereabouts of 13,776 individuals with registered intellectual disabilities. They were unable to locate 10 individuals and received 17 reports of suspected forced labor; all 27 cases were forwarded to the police.
The government provided a pension system for registered adults and children with disabilities, an allowance for children with disabilities under age 18 whose household income was below or near the National Basic Livelihood Security Standard, and a disability allowance for low-income persons age 18 and older with mild disabilities. The National Pension Service determines the degree of the disability, and local governments provide the pension directly to qualified persons. Some NGOs noted the pension and allowance system for persons with disabilities put an undue burden on families and assumed wealthier families would support their relatives with disabilities.
Children with disabilities qualified as special education beneficiaries and there was a separate system of public special education schools for children from age three to 17. Children with more significant disabilities may receive hospitalized education. All public and private schools, childcare centers, educational facilities, and training institutions must provide equipment and other resources to accommodate students with disabilities. For example, schools assigned teacher’s aides to ensure children with disabilities could participate in outdoor activities.
The KNPA reported a sharp increase in the number of reports of sexual violence committed against persons with disabilities. They attribute this trend to increasing public awareness of and attention to the rights of disabled individuals following a popular film dealing with the subject and several high-profile cases of abuse publicized in the media.
As of July, more than 2.18 million foreigners (including an estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants) lived in the country, which otherwise had a racially homogeneous population of approximately 50 million. The country lacks a comprehensive antidiscrimination law, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism called for legislation to curb racism and xenophobia.
Societal discrimination against ethnic and racial minorities was common but under-reported. As of June, the NHRC had investigated 10 cases of alleged ethnic and racial discrimination. A poll by the Gyeonggi Institute of Research and Policy Development for Migrants’ Human Rights found that of the 560 foreign workers from 17 countries who were surveyed, 43.7 percent experienced discrimination most commonly at work, 27 percent on the streets, and 18 percent at restaurants and stores.
In February a bar with a sign stating only Korean customers were allowed refused entry to a foreign woman. Although this was not perceived to be a general trend, businesses–mostly bars and nightclubs–across the country had similar overtly racist signs. Representatives of the bar in question claimed they refused to provide service to foreigners because they have no English-speaking staff, but still refused entry to the woman when she clarified she could speak Korean.
In July a middle-aged man beat a Burmese laborer in public at a subway station in Gyeonggi Province. Striking the Burmese man on the face several times, the Korean demanded he get on his knees to apologize for having used informal speech to say, “what,” when they bumped shoulders.
The NHRC reported in March that children of immigrants suffered from discrimination and lack of access to social resources. A child with cerebral palsy was found ineligible for social and medical benefits because, as a nonnational, the government did not recognize his disability. Children of non-Korean ethnicity or multiple ethnicities also experienced bullying because of their physical appearance.
In response to the steady growth of ethnic minorities due largely to the increasing number of migrant workers and foreign brides, the Ministries of Gender Equality and Family and of Employment and Labor continued programs to increase public awareness of cultural diversity and to assist foreign workers, wives, and multicultural families to adjust to life in the country. The government continued to operate foreign worker help centers across the country (see section 7.e.).
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The Ministry of Justice reported the constitution’s equality principles apply to LGBTI persons. The law that established the NHRC prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and authorizes the NHRC to review cases of such discrimination, but the law does not specify discrimination based on gender identity.
No laws either specify punishment for persons found to discriminate against LGBTI persons or provide for remedies to victims of discrimination or violence. During the first half of the year, the NHRC reported two cases of such alleged discrimination.
While there were no known cases of violence against LGBTI persons, LGBTI individuals and organizations continued to face societal discrimination. The Military Criminal Act’s “disgraceful conduct” clause criminalizes consensual sodomy between men in the military with up to two years’ imprisonment; in July the Constitutional Court ruled that the clause was constitutional.
The Korea Queer Culture Festival in June attracted more than 50,000 attendees, a record. It was held under heavy security without incident, but anti-LGBTI protesters staged a counter protest on the perimeter of the event’s parade.
LGBTI individuals generally kept a low profile because same-sex relationships were not widely accepted, although a few entertainers were openly gay, appearing frequently on popular television programs and operating several successful businesses. Some prominent societal figures, such as student council presidents, lawyers, and human rights leaders openly acknowledged their sexual orientation. In March professors of prominent local universities launched a research group on social prejudice against LGBTI individuals
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Observers claimed persons with HIV/AIDS continued to suffer from societal discrimination and social stigma. The law protects the right to confidentiality of persons with HIV/AIDS and prohibits discrimination against them.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported that under the Prevention of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Act, foreigners who wish to engage in teaching, entertainment, sports, or other show business and who stay in the country for more than 90 days must take a test to prove they are not HIV positive to qualify for an E (work) visa.