Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School - Green Background

Country Details

South Korea

  • Supreme Court Decision 2009Da19864, South Korea, Supreme Court, 2011.
    The Supreme Court upheld lower court’s decision finding that the Seoul Young Men’s Christian Associations (“YMCA”), a private organization, violated the Constitution when it excluded female from general membership. The Supreme Court found sexual discrimination, which excludes women from general membership qualification, to be against “social order exceeding tolerable limits in light of our community’s sound common senses and legal sentiment.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court found YMCA to have violated the Constitution despite its private organization status.
  • Supreme Court Decision 2009Do2576, South Korea, Supreme Court, 2009.
    The Supreme Court found the act of an elementary school teacher (“Defendant”) conducting a health examination to constitute “disgraceful conduct” as stipulated in Article 8-2(5) of the Act on the Punishment of Sexual Crimes and Protection of Victims (against minors aged 13 and below). The Supreme Court stated that even though the Defendant may not have subjective motive or purpose to “stimulate, stir up, and satisfy his sexual desire because such act was made in front of the students going with her, the Defendant’s act can be evaluated as disgraceful conduct.”
  • So-called Brothel Building Provider Case, South Korea, Constitutional Court, 2006.
    The petitioner filed a complaint that the Act on the Punishment of Arranging Sexual Traffic (hereinafter "The Act") which prohibits the "providing [of] buildings or land with the knowledge that it will be used for sexual traffic" is unconstitutional.  The petitioner owned or had management rights to buildings located in a brothel area, and since the buildings could not be leased out other than for purposes of sex trafficking, petitioner argued that the regulation pursuant to The Act excessively infringed on his right to property.  The Court held that restrictions imposed by the Act are appropriate to achieve its legislative purpose, which is to root out sexual trafficking and the acts of arranging it, and to protect the human rights of the victims of sex trafficking.  The Court reasoned that "[i]t is necessary for the state to protect women driven to such sexual traffic, and to regulate middlemen of sexual traffic."  The court held that the public good that is achieved by preventing the sexual trafficking in brothels outweighs the "short term private losses" suffered by the petitioners, and thus, the Act is constitutional.
  • Supreme Court Decision 2005Du13414, South Korea, Supreme Court, 2006.
    The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by a governor of a province claiming that because he was found not violating the Election of Public Officials Act (the “Election Act”), he should also be found not guilty of sexual harassment charges under the former Prohibition of and Remedies for Gender Discrimination Act (the “Discrimination Act”). The governor sexually harassed the defendant, a president of a vocation association, at meetings to discuss the upcoming general elections for governor. The Supreme Court held that plaintiff’s sexual behavior at such meetings constituted workplace sexual harassment, because their meetings had relevance to work, i.e. meeting to discuss governor’s elections.
  • Case on the House Head System, South Korea, Constitutional Court, 2005.
    The petitioners requested the constitutional review of Civil Code provisions which establish the traditional "house head system" (Ho-jue jae-do) which holds that a household is formed around the male, and passes down only through direct male descendants serving as successive house heads.  Under this system, male members are always recorded as the head of family in the Family Registry, and hold superior inheritance rights over female members. The Court held that the provisions which establish the "house head system" are unconstitutional.  The Court held that this system is a "statutory device to form a family with  male lineage at the center and perpetuate it to successive generations."  Furthermore, the system discriminates both men and women because it determines the order of succession, and effects marital relations and parent-children relationships.  The Court held that family relationships are changing, from authoritarian to democratic relationships, where "all family members are equally respected as individuals with dignity regardless of sex."
  • Use of Paternal Family Name Case, South Korea, Constitutional Court, 2005.
    Petitioners applied for constitutional review of Article 781(1) of the Civil Code which stated that "a child shall follow the family name of the father."  The Constitutional Court held that the civil code provision requiring a child to follow the father's family name is unconstitutional.  The court held that "such unilateral requirement to follow the father's family name and disallow use of the mother's name violates individual dignity and sexual equality."  In addition, the court held that "forcing one to use only his original father's family name and not allowing a name change infringes on the individual's right to personality." The concurring opinion stated that the civil code provision also results in discrimination against women, and found no legislative purpose for such discrimination.  (Article 36(1) of the South Korean Constitution guarantees individual dignity in marriage and family.)
  • Disclosure of the Identity of Sex Offenders Convicted of Acquiring Sexual Favors from Minors in Exchange for Monetary Compensation, South Korea, Constitutional Court, 2003.
    The petitioner, convicted of having sexual intercourse with a minor in exchange for payment, filed a lawsuit in the Seoul Administrative Court against the Commission on Youth Protection ("Commission"), requesting that the Commission revoke its decision to publicly disclose the petitioner's identity (name, age, birthdate, vocation and address, with summary of the crime).  The Administrative Court thereafter filed a request to the Constitutional Court for constitutional review of the provisions of the Juvenile Sex Protection Act ("the Act").   The Constitutional Court held that the provisions of the Act which required the Commission to disclose the personal information (name, age, occupation, address) of the sex offenders convicted of purchasing sex from minors, is constitutional.  The Court held that the Act intends to effect crime prevention, and to protect minors from sexual offenses, "thereby protecting their human rights and helping them to grow up to be sound members of society."