Adultery Is Decriminalized in South Korea


For those of you who have watched juicy and dramatic Korean dramas, you may have noticed that adultery is a frequently covered topic. “Secret Love Affair,” “Valid Love,” “Temptation,” “A Word from Warm Heart,” “Pink Lipstick,” and “Home Sweet Home” are only a few among the myriads of dramas involving extramarital affairs. In some of them, people even go to jail for committing adultery. So some of you might be reacting, “Wait a minute, adultery was illegal in South Korea?” Yes, it definitely was. The law constituted that any adulterer and his or her partner were liable for up to two years in jail if proven guilty.

Well, it is no more. Adultery will no longer be punishable by law in Korea. The criminal law was in effect for 62 years until the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled it unconstitutional by seven votes to two votes on February 26. Presiding justice Park Han Chul stated, “Even though adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals’ private lives.”

The law was originally created with the intent to protect women’s rights in marriages. Proponents of the law’s abolishment have commented that equal rights have improved in Korea and the law can actually be misused to cast shame on women who are guilty of adultery.

There have been four instances when the controversial law was up for abolishment. Also, the court has made a new law to address compensation for individuals convicted of adultery (most likely only those who actually went to jail) after October 31, 2008 (the day after the last time the law was voted on). The amount of compensation will be five times the minimum wage which could differ depending on the year and other factors).

Many actors and actresses have been the subject of public scrutiny after being found guilty of adultery. Most notably, actress Ok Su Ri petitioned the Constitutional Court in 2008 (the last instance the law was voted on) although she was unsuccessful in getting her sentence repealed. Being found guilty of adultery is doubly difficult for public figures and often results in the end of their careers.

K-Drama viewers have most recently seen a character endangered of going to jail due to adultery in the popular drama “Secret Love Affair” starring Kim Hee Ae and Yoo Ah In. More often, we see individuals threaten cheaters about sending them to jail. That’s a scene you can see in most dramas dealing with the heavy topic. Now with the abolishment of the law, drama writers won’t be able to utilize the danger of incarceration looming as a threat.

What do you think of the abolishment of the law imprisoning adulterers?

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