Conscription in South Korea
Conscription in South Korea has existed since 1957 and requires male citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 to perform about two years of compulsory military service. Women are not required to perform military service, but may voluntarily enlist.
- 1 Establishment
- 2 Requirements
- 3 Compensation
- 4 Equipment
- 5 Dual citizens
- 6 Controversies
- 7 Conscientious objection
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The basis for military conscription in South Korea is the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, which was promulgated on July 17, 1948. The constitution states in Article 39, "All citizens shall have the duty of national defense under the conditions as prescribed by Act." The Military Service Act of 1949, which was implemented in 1957, specified that compulsory military service is required for men ages 18 or older. Conscription is managed by the Military Manpower Administration, which was created in 1948.
Enlistment and physical exam
By law, when a Korean man turns 18 years old, he is enlisted for "first citizen service," meaning he is liable for military duty, but is not yet required to serve. When he turns 19 years old (or, in some instances, 20 years old), he is required to undergo a physical exam to determine whether he is suitable for military service. The table below shows the physical exam's possible grades and their outcomes, according to the Military Service Act.
|1, 2, 3, 4||"Those whose physical and psychological constitution is healthy enough to perform active or supplemental service."||"To be enlisted for active duty service, supplemental service or the second citizen service, based on their qualifications, such as educational background and age."|
|5||"Those incapable of entering active or supplemental service, but capable of entering the second citizen service."||"To be enlisted for the second citizen service."|
|6||"Those incapable of performing military service due to any disease or mental or physical incompetence."||"To be exempted from military service."|
|7||"Those unable to be graded...due to any disease or mental or physical incompetence."||"To undergo a follow-up physical examination" within two years.|
Service types and length
The length of compulsory military service in South Korea varies based on military branch. Active duty soldiers serve 21 months in the Army or Marine Corps, 23 months in the Navy, and 24 months in the Air Force. After conscripts finish their military service, they are automatically placed on the reserve roster and are obligated to attend a few days of annual military training for 6 years.
Non-active duty personnel, or "supplemental service" personnel serve for various lengths: 24 months for social work personnel or international cooperation service personnel; 34 months for arts and sports personnel or industrial technical personnel; and 36 months for public health doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, or expert researchers.
South Korea currently has among the longest military service periods in the world, ranked behind Israel, Singapore, and North Korea. In 2010, there was growing public pressure to either shorten the length of conscription or to switch to voluntary military service, and calls from experts for a gradual phasing out of conscription rather than complete abolition. However, in December 2010, after taking into consideration of the 2010 ROKS Cheonan sinking and Bombardment of Yeonpyeong incidents, the South Korean government said it would not reduce service periods.
Exemptions for Olympic medalists
Current conscription regulations stipulate that athletes who win medals in the Olympic Games or gold medals in the Asian Games are granted exemptions from military service and are placed in Grade 4. They are required to do four weeks of basic military training and engage in sports field for 42 months. After that, they are automatically placed on the reserve roster, and are obligated to attend a few days of annual military training for six years. In practice, after athletes finish their four weeks of basic military training, they are able to continue their own sports career during the 34 months of duty.
Notable athletes who have been granted exemptions from military service are the bronze medal-winning football team at the 2012 Summer Olympics, 2008 Olympic gold medalist badminton player Lee Yong-dae, swimmer Park Tae-hwan, and 2014 Asian Games gold medalist tennis player Hyeon Chung.
|Private (이등병)||Private first class (일등병)||Corporal (상등병)||Sergeant (병장)|
$151.35 (approx) per month
$163.79 (approx) per month
$181.06 (approx) per month
$200.56 (approx) per month
The Ministry of National Defense has revealed that it has failed to provide sneakers to 7,411 recruits who joined the military from 22 May to 4 June 2012, after the budget was insufficient for need. The Defense ministry originally projected the cost of each pair of sneakers to be 11,000 KRW. However, the actual cost turned out to be 15,000 KRW.
The office of National Assembly member Kim Kwang-jin of Democratic United Party revealed that cadets in Korea Military Academy were provided with sneakers worth 60,000 KRW and tennis shoes. Cadets in Korea Army Academy at Yeongcheon were provided with sneakers worth 64,250 KRW, in addition to running shoes and soccer shoes.
For dual citizens, or those with multiple citizenships, male South Koreans must choose their citizenship by the time they turn 18, before March 31 of that year. If these males choose to revoke their South Korean citizenship, they will not be required to complete their mandatory military service. However, if they fail to choose their citizenship by their 18th year, they will be subjected to fulfill their mandatory military service. If males choose to renounce their citizenship by their 18th year, they are ineligible to gain a Korean work visa (F series) until after they turn 40 years of age. It may still be possible to gain an E series visa.
The South Korean public is sensitive towards the country's mandatory military service, but also has a low tolerance towards those who attempt to dodge or receive special treatment, especially after scandals of wealthy families caught trying to avoid their national duty. Those found or accused of draft dodging and negligence of duty often face harsh penalties and public backlash. According to Ha Jae-keun, a South Korean pop columnist, "The mood against draft-dodgers and negligence of duty is so hostile that nowadays entertainers feel it's better to get it over and done with".
In 2002, right before Korean American pop singer Steve Yoo was due to be drafted for his military service, he gave up his Korean nationality and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was born in Seoul and migrated to the United States at the age of 13. The South Korean government considered it an act of desertion and deported him, banning him from entering the country permanently.
In late 2004, it was revealed that actor Song Seung-heon had avoided his draft by taking medication to fail the military physical examination. Song had previously been exempted by claiming to have severe diabetes and high blood pressure, but that was found by the South Korean government to be false. Amidst press coverage and public outcry, Song publicly apologized and agreed to immediately serve his two-year term in the military. Song was discharged on 15 November 2006 with the rank of Corporal.
On 11 April 2011, rapper MC Mong was cleared of intentionally pulling out healthy teeth to be exempted from military duty but was sentenced to a suspended jail term of 6 months, probation for one year, and 120 hours of community service, for deliberately delaying enlistment on false grounds. The court acknowledged that there was a delay in his military enlistment; however, they were unable to determine whether he was guilty of extracting teeth for the purpose of avoiding his military draft. In September 2011, it was reported that Mong has been banned by Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) and Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) from appearing in its TV shows, for draft dodging.
In June 2012 Kim Mu-yeol came under growing public criticism over allegations he dodged his compulsory military service. In a report released by the Korean Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), Kim was deemed fit to serve in active duty as a level two recruit after a March 2001 physical examination. However, throughout 2007 to 2009, Kim was granted postponement on the grounds that he was taking civil service examinations or had been admitted to a work training facility, neither of which took place. During this time he reportedly earned approximately ₩300 million from films, musicals and television work. In December 2009, he received his final notice for enlistment, having used up the 730 days allowed for postponement. He submitted a request to change his military status in January 2010 because of a knee injury, which was rejected. Finally, a valid exemption was granted on the grounds that he was a "low-income individual" and the sole provider for his family. BAI's contention was that Kim's income is substantially higher than the standard for disqualification due to poverty; thus, the Military Manpower Administration was negligent in their duties by granting the exemption.
Kim's agency Prain TPC defended him, stating that Kim had been supporting his family by working as a security guard, construction worker and at a mobile phone factory since his late teens. When his father collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage and was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, the treatments incurred a lot of debt for the family. Their worsening financial condition caused them to become totally dependent on Kim, resulting in his said filing for an exemption in 2010. Given the publicity, a reinvestigation into the case was launched and Kim was asked by the production company to leave the film 11 A.M. (he was replaced by Choi Daniel). On 4 October 2012, Kim released a statement that though there was no wrongdoing on his part, he had decided to voluntarily enter the army "to recover his honor damaged by the rumors."
T.O.P began his two-year mandatory military service on February 9, 2017 as a conscripted police officer, where he was set to be discharged on November 8, 2018 after completing the requirements. However, it was announced in June that he would be prosecuted without detention for use of marijuana. He was subsequently transferred to a different police division to await notice of prosecution, and was suspended from police duty pending verdict on his case. A few days after the announcement, T.O.P was found unconscious in police barracks due to a suspected anti-anxiety medicine overdose of prescribed benzodiazepine, and was hospitalized. On June 8, T.O.P's mother confirmed that her son had opened his eyes and was recovering.
On June 29, T.O.P faced his first trial for the marijuana usage charges at the Seoul Central District Court. He pleaded guilty to the charges against him and admitted that he did smoke marijuana on two out of the four instances. T.O.P received two years of probation, with a possibility of ten months' jail time if he violates any terms. At the second court hearing the following month, T.O.P was sentenced to 10 months in prison suspended for two years for illegal marijuana use. He acknowledged all guilty charges. After undergoing a disciplinary review by the police to decide if T.O.P could return as a conscripted policeman or will complete his service as a public service officer, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency reviewed T.O.P's current condition and decided T.O.P is unfit to resume service in his previous position. A request was made to Army headquarters for a new position for T.O.P to determine either to serve as a public service worker of a full-time reserve soldier to complete his mandatory service. T.O.P was eventually assigned reservist status by the Ministry of National Defense and transferred from police department. He will complete his mandatory service as a public service worker. The time T.O.P had been dismissed from duty during his prosecution will not count towards his total service.
The right to conscientious objection is not recognised in South Korea. Usually, over 400 people are imprisoned at any one time for refusing military service, for political or religious reasons. This is contrary to international human rights standards and the government of Korea have been repeatedly criticised for not allowing those whose conscience prevents them from joining the military to undertake some kind of substitute service, rather than imprisoning them.
- Conscription in North Korea
- Republic of Korea Armed Forces
- Republic of Korea Army
- Republic of Korea Marine Corps
- Republic of Korea Navy
- Republic of Korea Air Force
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