Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape; 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. Rape is defined in law as involving the use of violence. 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 restraining 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 ($6,240) 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 ($17,800). 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.
The law allows judges or a Ministry of Justice committee to sentence repeat sex offenders to “chemical castration,” where sex offenders undergo drug treatment designed to diminish sexual urges. The law was enacted to protect children against an increasing number of reported sex crimes. The Ministry of Justice reported that 20 such procedures were conducted between January and July.
Police generally responded promptly and appropriately to reported incidents, and the judicial system effectively enforced the law. The fact, however, that a rape conviction requires proving that violence was used, and because the country’s defamation laws allow a countersuit by alleged perpetrators, rape laws often go unenforced.
The high profile case of former presidential hopeful and governor of South Chuncheong, Ahn Hee-jung, who was charged in March with raping his former secretary, drew nationwide attention to the country’s contentious definition of rape, which is based on “means of violence” rather than lack of consent. In August the court concluded Ahn did not exercise physical violence or verbal abuse against his former secretary and acquitted him.
Domestic violence remained a significant and underreported problem. According to the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, sexual violence reporting had been steadily rising over the past seven years, and 65 percent of sexual violence cases were by employers or superiors in the workplace. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) reported that “couples violence” occurred in 14.2 percent of all families in 2016.
In October a man brutally attacked and killed his girlfriend, her parents, and her 84-year-old grandmother in their residence in the southeastern port city of Busan. The attacker then committed suicide.
In response to the #MeToo movement, in March MOGEF created the Special Center for Reporting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault. As of November, 1,271 cases were reported to the Special Center. After a female prosecutor spoke out in February 2017 about being sexually assaulted by a male prosecutor and then launched the country’s “#MeToo” movement, the Korea Women’s Hot Line Center (the largest women’s counseling center in Seoul), reported a 23.5 percent increase in calls that year. During the year, the Hot Line Center provided counseling in 29,037 cases, including 869 cases of sexual violence, and 827 cases of domestic violence. MOGEF funded 38 integrated support centers and 104 smaller counseling centers nationwide for victims of sexual violence called “sunflower centers,” providing counseling, medical care and therapy, case workers, and legal assistance.
In August, MOGEF established the Japanese Military Comfort Women Research Institute to support research and projects related to World War II “comfort women” (women trafficked for sexual purposes). The 2015 comfort women agreement with Japan remained controversial throughout the year, with vocal opposition by civil society and survivor groups and a demonstration in September in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, which was established to disburse the 1 billion yen (approximately $9.1 million) Japan contributed under the 2015 agreement, became inactive during the year and public calls for its dissolution continued to mount. On November 21, MOGEF announced it would begin dissolving the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation. President Moon has stated he will not renegotiate nor return the approximately $4.6 million in remaining foundation funds.
Sexual Harassment: The law obligates companies and organizations to take preventive measures against sexual harassment, but it is not a criminal offense. Violations of the law are punished administratively. The government generally enforced the law effectively. The KNPA classifies sexual harassment as “indecent acts by compulsion.”
Sexual harassment was a significant social problem, and there were numerous cases of sexual harassment reported in media throughout the year. The NHRCK created a gender discrimination prevention team in July.
In February a number of women accused renowned playwright Lee Youn-taek of sexual harassment and assault, including rape. In response Lee resigned from his positions and apologized publicly for his deeds. The statute of limitations for filing lawsuits against Lee, however, had elapsed.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights under the constitution as men. The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed the gender pay gap was 34.6 percent in 2017.
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. The law requires that all children be registered in family registries and prohibits adoption of children for the first week after birth.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes serious injury and repeated abuse of children, and provides prison terms of between five years and life.
In 2017 the Ministry of Health and Welfare reported that confirmed cases of child abuse continued to increase; 34,185 cases of child abuse were reported, compared to 29,669 in 2016. The ministry attributed the rise in reports in part to increased public awareness campaigns and expanded child welfare reporting requirements.
In March the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Education, and the KNPA launched a supplementary program on child abuse prevention to increase public awareness. The health ministry oversees child protection agencies and shelters to treat and protect victims of child abuse, and it implements programs for families designed to prevent recurrence. The government also maintained a 24-hour online counseling center for victims of child abuse.
Media reported in August that a female teacher was convicted of child abuse and killing the child, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Two other teachers at the school were charged with aiding and abetting. The prosecutors confirmed that the teacher abused eight children a total of 25 times, smothering them with blankets, which led to the death by suffocation of one of the eight.
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 younger than 19 into having sexual intercourse. The penalty for rape of a minor younger than age 13 ranges from 10 years to life in prison; the penalty for rape of a minor age 13 to under 19 is five years to life. Other penalties include electronic monitoring of offenders, public release of their personal information, and reversible hormone treatment. The law prohibits the commercialization of child pornography. Offenders who produce or possess child pornography materials for the purpose of selling, leasing, or distributing for profit are subject to a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment. In addition, anyone who possesses child pornography may be fined up to 20 million won ($17,800).
Children, especially runaway girls, however, were vulnerable to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation through online recruitment.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community numbers approximately 1,000 individuals, almost all 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, or mental disabilities and sets penalties for deliberate discrimination of up to three years in prison and a fine of 30 million won ($26,800). The law covering rights and support for persons with developmental disabilities 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 establishments, however, continued to disregard the laws, opting to pay fines rather than incurring expenses to make structural adjustments. The Research Institute for Differently Abled Person’s Rights Korea reported that individuals with intellectual disabilities did not receive proper education; employment rates of adults with disabilities were low; and public support for family care was inadequate.
Many local government ordinances and regulations directly discriminate against persons with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and mental disabilities, according to media reports and NGOs. The Research Institute filed a discrimination case in May against a local bank that refused to open a bank account for a person with disability. The NGO also filed a civil complaint in September against the International Olympic Committee for failing to provide a sign language interpreter to assist a hearing-impaired individual in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games in March.
The NHRCK reported 1,200 incidents of discrimination against persons with disabilities between January 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare continued to implement a comprehensive set of policies that included encouraging provision of greater access for persons with disabilities to public and private buildings and facilities; part-time employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; and introduction of a long-term care system.
The Research Institute reported that in July a teacher allegedly raped a number of girls with intellectual disabilities at a special education school in Gangwon Province. In March the Research Institute reported that a man with an intellectual disability working at a baseball stadium in Seoul as a sanitation worker had not been compensated for 17 years.
The government operated rehabilitation hospitals in six regions and a national rehabilitation research center to increase employment opportunities and access for persons with disabilities.
The Act on the Prohibition of Discrimination of Disabled Persons uses a grading system of one to six based on “medical disability” to determine eligibility for social welfare benefits. The Research Institute reported that various NGOs found the system unfair and inhumane, and sought its abolition.
The government continued to provide a pension system for registered adults and children with disabilities, an allowance for children with disabilities younger than age 18 in households with an income below or near the National Basic Livelihood Security Standard, and a disability allowance for low-income persons age 18 and older with mild disabilities.
Children with disabilities had access to a separate system of public special education schools for children ages three to 17. All public and private schools, child-care centers, educational facilities, and training institutions were required to provide equipment and other resources to accommodate students with disabilities.
As of July, more than 2.3 million foreigners (including an estimated 330,000 undocumented migrants) lived in the country, which otherwise had a racially homogeneous population of approximately 51.4 million. The country lacks a comprehensive antidiscrimination law.
Societal discrimination against ethnic and racial minorities was common but underreported. A large majority of immigrants and naturalized citizens were female spouses, and they were reportedly often the victim of domestic violence. The NHRCK stated that most of the foreign worker cases involved enforced eviction or mistreatment in detention centers when detained on charges of violating immigration laws.
Some children of immigrants suffered from discrimination and lack of access to social resources. Some 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, spouses, and multicultural families to adjust to living in the country.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws specify punishment for persons found to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons or provide remedies to victims of discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation. The law that established the NHRCK prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and authorizes the NHRCK to review cases of such discrimination, but the law does not specify discrimination based on gender identity. The Military Criminal Act’s “disgraceful conduct” clause criminalizes consensual sodomy between men in the military with up to two years’ imprisonment; in 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled the clause was constitutional.
According to the Military Human Rights Center, no new cases were brought under the Military Criminal Act’s “disgraceful conduct” clause in the year to November. Of the 44 soldiers investigated by the army chief of staff in 2017 in a campaign to identify and oust gay and bisexual male soldiers, 22 were prosecuted, 17 cases were closed, and five were pending court martial.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law protects the right to confidentiality of persons with HIV/AIDS and prohibits discrimination against them. Local NGOs contended, however, that persons with HIV/AIDS continued to suffer from societal discrimination and social stigma. The government also requires Yemeni asylum seekers to undergo HIV exams. In July 2017 a requirement that foreign English teachers undergo HIV testing to obtain an E-2 work visa was abolished.