Reforming and re-evaluating punitive legal aspects of social issues continues to draw attention in Korea. Old norms once rooted in centuries old Confucianism or the authoritarian regimes of the 1960s -1980s have yielded to a society impacted by globalization. Issues like adultery and abortion laws are now under scrutiny. The adultery law, for example, punishes extra-marital affairs. Centuries ago this meant a very public spectacle. As 17th centeury shipwrecked Dutch sailor Hendrick Hamel noted in his account of life in Korea… Who commits adultery with a married woman, is lead through the city, together with the woman, naked or just dressed in thin underpants. From both the face is smeared with slake lime, they have an arrow through each ear, and on their back a small drum is tied on their back on which a judicial servant beats while he shouts: “Look people!, this man and this woman committed adultery!”. After being led through the city like this, they conclusively got 50 to 60 beating on their buttocks in the square in front of the city hall.
In recent years punishment has meant jail time and probation…
The government is moving to scrap Korea’s singularly punitive adultery law. A special committee under the Justice Ministry tasked with reforming the country’s criminal code in a recent meeting agreed to abolish the draconian law, a member said Wednesday.
Consisting of 24 legal experts endorsed by the judiciary, prosecution and the Korean Bar Association, the special committee has been discussing the overhaul of the criminal code since September 2007.
The Justice Ministry plans to prepare a reform bill in the first half of this year based on the committee’s recommendations and submit it for ratification by the end of this year. The committee decided to abolish the Adultery Law after putting it to a vote.
In October 2008, the Constitutional Court again upheld the law by default, with four of nine judges saying it is constitutional and five unconstitutional, falling short of the two-thirds majority or six out of nine needed for a law to be declared unconstitutional.
The committee is also reportedly discussing permitting abortions, which remain illegal in Korea. “We have not reached any conclusions since it is a very controversial issue,” a committee member said. “But discussions are under way allowing abortions if they are conducted before a certain period of pregnancy and clamping down on those that take place after that phase as seen in advanced countries.”
The committee is also seeking to scrap punitive measures such as doubling the sentence for repeat offenders and replace them with preventive measures like surveillance, protective custody and treatment.