Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Age of Consent in Korea

Dear Korean,

I noticed that the official age of consent in South Korea is thirteen, and wondered why the age was so low. Is this just a remnant of a Korea that used to be a third-world country, or is there another reason? I was puzzled because I thought that generally, Koreans tended to be socially conservative, especially in terms of sexual relations.

Kathleen K.

There is actually a very simply explanation. Why is the age of consent 13 in Korea? Because that is the age of consent in Japan.

Korea's age of consent has almost nothing to do with Korean culture, and has everything to do with the legal history of Korea. Korea first implemented a modern legal code in 1895, borrowing much from the Japanese code. This code, however, was short-lived, as Imperial Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and imposed its own laws.

Korea would become independent in 1945, and proceeded to eliminate Imperial Japan's vestiges in many areas. But in many other areas, Koreans saw fit to keep the imports from Imperial Japan. In Korea's legal system, Koreans abolished the oppressive laws that allowed the Imperial Japanese government to exploit its colony. However, Koreans left alone many areas of law that did not directly implicate the colonial rule--for example, enforcement of contracts.

Over the next several decades, Koreans would gradually update and change the laws that they inherited from the colonial era to fit the changing times and circumstances.. Yet vestiges from the colonial law remain, for the simple reason that there are far too many of them to completely address and Korean people did not feel any particular urgency to change them.

Age of consent is one such item. Having a higher age of consent may add some value, but not much, as there are plenty of laws in the book to punish virtually all types of sex crimes. Because Korea remains a sexually conservative society (although significantly less so in recent years,) higher age of consent is not particularly necessary to prevent, say, 15-year-olds from having sex with each other. (In fact, this tends to create huge injustice in the U.S., where in some states an 18-year-old having sex with a 16-year-old may be placed on the sex offender registry.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

29 comments:

  1. Is this 13 actual years of age from one's birthday, or is it really 11 or 12 years of age from one's actual birth in the case of Korean age reckoning?

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    Replies
    1. When it comes to the law, it is always the biological age counting from birthday.

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    2. Wait wait wait,,, when it comes to law it's biological, so how is age usually spoken of and used in general Korean society, is it still common place to use the old system (1 at birth, add one at new years)? Like, if the legal age to get into a club is say 18, then only a "full year" 18 year old could enter right? But if we happened to just be chatting with people on the street and we exchanged ages, would they give their "full year" age or their "age"?

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    3. The old system is generally practiced. If someone says they are 21, they are really only 19 or 20.

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  2. It isn't much higher in Europe, usually 14. Altough, you won't see courtroom if your partner is above 12.

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    Replies
    1. No it isn't. In most countries it is 15 or 16. There are few where it's 14 like Germany and Hungary and then Spain as an exception where age of consent is 13-

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    2. No, there are 16 countries, with the limit of 14 or younger, I wouldn't call it "few", maybe "fewer".

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  3. Didn't they update this in 2011? I think an adult having sex with a minor is statutory rape now since it's considered abuse of power. So there's that.
    (It was written somewhere in here http://www.law.go.kr/lsInfoP.do?lsiSeq=116790&efYd=20120916#0000 but fuck if I have the energy to search for it.)

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    Replies
    1. You are referring to 아청법, and that has nothing to do with age of consent.

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  4. First, was there no effort in post-colonial days to get rid of the Japanese legacy? In ex-European colonies in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, such movements were common.

    Second, why has no one in all the decades since independence thought that there was anything wrong with the age of consent being so low?

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  5. Did you read the post?

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  6. Korea revised the law in 2011. It's now 19 if "force" is used. Force seems to mean an abuse of power
    when having sex with minor under 19.

    Regardless, I hope Korean doesn't transition from partriarchy anarchical/authoritarian all the way to intrusive nanny state while I'm around.

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    Replies
    1. "Anarchical" and "authoritarian" are two antonyms, or opposites, if you prefer. Patriarchy also has nothing to do with anarchy and anarchism. I'm seriously confused.

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    2. Korean culture tolerates seeming contradictions very well. That's something I've always liked about Korea. It's maddening at times, too.

      I don't see the contradictions you seem to see. All undeveloped countries necessarily have a high level of anarchy. Little infrastructure, corrupt police, undeveloped legal system. Yet Korea was a military dictatorship and very patriarchical, too.

      Is Korea already a nanny state? It seems like the Kpop generation is.

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    3. Hmh.... Don't wanna sound arrogant, but it looks like you're misinformed about the term "anarchy", and I tell you this as a linguistics' student. Anarchy and anarchism are complex political ideas that promote a liberal utopian system which is based on having no government. That means also no police or legal systems and it doesn't have anything to do with infrastructure. You might believe it would be hell without a government, as many people do, but anarchists actually offer peaceful and considerable sollutions above all, and a system based on consensus, love, respect and trust for each other.

      It is true, however, that the word has been wrongly exploited for negative notions, which confuses ordinary people who won't bother getting head aches exploring various political ideas. Just to let you know.

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    4. Korea revised the law in 2011. It's now 19 if "force" is used.

      Can you point me to the law that you are referring to? Thanks.

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    5. @DXL

      Right. I know the high school meaning of anarchy. I'm using the term simply to mean less government veering toward zero. Korea during the 60s, when I lived there, was "close to nature". Nobody was very educated then, everyone hated the few police that were around, you'd never see a lawyer, we used see snakes in trees after big rains, markets just meant any who could grab table and sell anything. To me that's "anarchy".

      BTW, it's also why I love Kpop. Damn fun to see the first generation Korean culture and the kids living it that never experienced dictatorship.

      @The Korean

      It's from Wikipedia.

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    6. Wow, that Wikipedia entry is entirely wrong. Don't count on that one.

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    7. And that is the wrong interpretation of the term "anarchy", which I was talking about and that unfortunately is quite common. I'm just advising you to be careful and more sensitive, because it's just not fair... Take "femminism" as a comparison - what initially was merely a cry for freedom is sadly being transformed into hatered for men? No way.... This is frightening.

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    8. @ The Korean

      What's wrong with the entry? Are you saying the law is wrongly interpreted? it's factual wrong?

      @DXL

      It was simply my interpretation as I explained. In no way am I going to get into academic nitpicks here. Let's not go there. Wikipedia, ahem, states there are multiple interpretations of anarchy. I was making a non-theoretical, intelligent blog level use of the word. That's all. Peace.

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    9. It looks like someone without any legal education wrote that entry, because it is really muddled about what it tries to describe. The law that passed in 2011 (called 아동 청소년의 성보호에 관한 법률) is not about age of consent at all. It is about providing additional punishment for sex crimes against children, which were already illegal to begin with. (Like I wrote in the OP, Korea has plenty of laws that punish forcible sex.)

      Age of consent means that below that age, there is no possible circumstance in the world in which having sex with someone under that age is not a crime. So if the age of consent is 17, ANY sex (i.e. even consensual sex that involves zero force or trickery) with under-17-year-olds is a crime. That's not what the 2011 law is about.

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    10. I actually spent a year in law school and got 99.9% LSAT score for dessert. FWIW (not much).

      Anyway, the article states the 2011 law "supercedes" the previous law. It looks pretty plain to me and doesn't look at all as something simply to dismiss because you say so. And often what you have to say is quite strong.

      If you are saying that there is much more than meets the eye on this issue, I'd have to agree.
      But then in Korea and the law, there always is. And I'm not sure I'd agree with your statement that Korea is a sexually conservative country.




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    11. All I am saying is that "age of consent" is a term of art, and it has nothing to do with the 2011 law.

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    12. I really wouldn't quote anything from Wikipedia unless you checked the source yourself. And as TK mentioned multiple times already, the law (아동 청소년의 성보호에 관한 법률) has absolutely nothing to do with the age of consent and, except some wording changes, the age itself has always been the same. It's Article 305 of the Penal Code. (http://www.law.go.kr/lsSc.do?menuId=0&p1=&subMenu=1&nwYn=1&query=%ED%98%95%EB%B2%95&x=-729&y=-208#liBgcolor4)

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  7. From the OP: "I was puzzled because I thought that generally, Koreans tended to be socially conservative, especially in terms of sexual relations."

    On the surface, Korea is socially conservative. But there is plenty of stuff going on underneath the surface that is seldom talked about. Sex is one of these things. Read this article: http://www.ibtimes.com/south-korea-thriving-sex-industry-powerful-wealthy-super-state-1222647

    It says that half a million women work in Korea's sex industry and 20% of young men visit prositutes on a regular basis. In Korea, it's an open secret that prostitution is everywhere. I just saw a very sad article in a Korean paper about old women selling sex along Seoul's hiking trails just to support themselves in their old age.

    Whenever you hear about Korea being conservative, just remember this conservatism is very selective in society.

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  8. I think adults having sex with a minor should be a death penalty offense.

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    Replies
    1. Even when the "adult" is 17 years old and the "minor" is 16 years old?

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    2. The US generally doesn't have that issue, because they also have a 2 year grace period. While 16 might be the age of consent if the partners are within 2 years of each other, it's legal. It's more of an issue in the case of say 15 vs 18.

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    3. @crossmr that isn't always the case, I know of a few cases where the difference has only been a year and the elder participant has been tried and found guilty of statutory rape. It may happen more in the southern US but I hear about a story like this a few times a yr and actually know someone that was put on the sex offenders registry for having relations with a girl one year younger than him, not forcibly. I don't know a lot about law but I believe it varies state to state. I actually think the Korean law with the "force" exception would be a better for the States.

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