Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding Observations: Republic of Korea (1993).

Republic of Korea

405. The Committee considered the second periodic report of the Republic of Korea (CEDAW/C/13/Add.28 and Corr.1) at its 224th meeting, on 28 January (see CEDAW/C/SR.224).

406. The Committee considered that the report gave a good overview of legal and administrative developments in the Republic of Korea in terms of women's rights since the submission of the initial report, testifying to the continued commitment of the Government to eliminate discrimination against women. However, the remarkable development of the economy, which had brought an increasing number of women into the economically active group, had yet to bring about a corresponding advancement in terms of women's political role and their participation in decision-making.

407. In her introductory statement, the representative briefly described the contents of the second periodic report and the developments that had been achieved or attempted. She informed the Committee that the report had been formulated according to the general guidelines regarding the form and content of reports and the initial report that had been reviewed by the Committee at its sixth session. The second periodic report dealt mainly with the progress of the implementation of the Convention and also with the questions unanswered at the time the initial report was submitted. The second periodic report had been prepared jointly by the ministries and non-governmental organizations concerned with women's affairs.

408. The representative said that the introductory part of the report mentioned the institutional framework, the progress made in achieving de jure and de facto equality, and the policies to abolish the discrimination faced by women in the Republic of Korea.

409. In addressing the status of women in her country, the representative pointed out that as a result of industrialization, women had become actively involved in economic activities and, since the revision in 1989 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act enacted in 1987, women no longer faced such discrimination as restrictive recruitment, wage differentials and limited opportunities for promotion.

410. She said that since the inauguration of the Republic of Korea in 1945, women had enjoyed the same political rights as men; however, their participation in the national decision-making process was still unsatisfactory. Yet their participation in the civil service, education and the mass media was gradually improving. She explained that women were very active in non-governmental organizations, in accordance with the freedom of association guaranteed by the Constitution. Most importantly, she claimed, the revision of the Family Law in 1989 had been a significant breakthrough in providing the same status to women as men, especially in the area of property rights.

411. The representative said that the main provisions of the Convention had not only been integrated into the Constitution but had also become the legal basis for the advancement of women in the country. The Committee noted that the Government still maintained reservations to the Convention and hoped that, in the future, a sustained effort would be made to withdraw those reservations.

412. In replying to the questions that had been submitted by the pre-session working group, the representative highlighted specific measures aimed at accelerating the process of achieving de facto equality.

413. Those measures included the abolition of the sex-segregated recruitment system for government employees, the establishment of Family Welfare Divisions in cities, provinces and districts; the inclusion of women's studies in courses for the training of civil servants and teachers to enhance social consciousness of equality and end traditional prejudices against women, and the Decree of the Prime Minister intended to increase the proportion of female participants in policy-making committees of the Government to 15 per cent by the year 2000.

Questions related to specific articles

Articles 2-4

414. In answer to a question, the representative said that the Ministry of Political Affairs II was in charge of women's affairs, particularly those related to women's participation in various social, economic and political activities. It surveyed public opinion and made policy recommendations concerning the status of women. It also liaised with the departments concerned with coordinating and implementing various programmes on women.

415. The Committee praised the Government of the Republic of Korea for the fact that a number of special laws concerning women's interests had been enacted or revised. Such laws included the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1987, the revised Family Law of 1989 and the revised Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1989 to regulate the question of equality between men and women. The Committee noted that the revised Labour Standard Act (art. 56) stipulated: "no female ... shall be authorized to work between the hours of 22.00 and 6.00 or on holidays unless otherwise approved by the Minister of Labour". According to article 57 "an employer shall be forbidden to place any female 18 years or older on overtime work for a period exceeding two hours a day, six hours a week and 150 hours a year, even if provided for in a collective bargaining agreement". The Committee asked what kind of exceptions the Ministry of Labour had decided to authorize with regard to those provisions. In response, the representative said that article 56 (Prohibition of night and holiday work) had been amended, in March 1989, to read "unless otherwise approved by the Minister of Labour with the consent of the employee". She explained that the right of the female employee had been expanded in that the consent of the employee preceded the authorization of the Minister of Labour.

416. In reply to another question concerning the extent to which the Ministry of Labour's advice had been followed that 20 industries with over 1,000 women workers should establish day-care centres at the workplace, the representative said that, in September 1992, the total number of day-care centres in the Republic of Korea was 4,366, of which 27 facilities were in the workplace, and 41 were in the process of being established. Government and non-profit organizations subsidized the establishment of those centres. The percentage of each age group being accommodated was as follows: 24,370 (20.2 per cent) children below three years of age and 95,857 (79.8 per cent) children between three and five years of age.

Article 5

417. With regard to the measures taken to abolish the traditional stereotype of women in the mass media, education and employment, the representative informed the Committee that, in the field of mass media, the Government was sponsoring a programme entitled "The World of Professions" on the newly established Public Education Broadcasting Station to encourage girl students to acquire a healthy and enlightened attitude towards careers.

418. In the field of education and employment, she said that a long-term strategy to eliminate sexual discrimination was important, providing education at an early age to change traditional attitudes towards women. The Government also operated special programmes for high-school girl students to promote desirable attitudes towards careers. In 1990, the Government had adopted a Model Career Guidance Programme for middle-school girl students, which had been disseminated to the education committees in cities and provinces.

419. Since 1990, coeducation was widely practised in all primary schools: 54.3 per cent of all middle schools and 38.7 per cent of all high schools were coeducational.

420. With regard to the nature and extent of the problem of violence against women, the representative said that her Government had been a sponsor of the draft resolution on violence against women in all its forms adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women at its thirty-sixth session and subsequently adopted by the Economic and Social Council as resolution 1992/18. The Government had accordingly adopted various measures, including public awareness programmes; mass media information on the role of education and the community; provision of shelter houses for battered women, counselling centres for the victims of sexual violence in the workplace, guides and a manual for counsellors and hot lines at police stations; and the dissemination of brochures, pamphlets and stickers.

Article 6

421. In reply to a question on the specific penalties or terms of imprisonment for offenders under the Prostitution Prevention Act and the Enforcement Decree on the Prevention of Prostitution, the representative said that, according to the Act, any person found guilty of prostitution, or of inciting another to commit such an act, could be fined up to 30,000 won (US$ 40) or be punished by imprisonment. In addition, those who provoked or forced others into prostitution, or a husband who provided his wife for such purposes, could be fined up to 100,000 won (US$ 133) or be imprisoned for a maximum term of one year.

422. Regarding the operation of the rehabilitation centres for prostitutes, the number of prostitutes who had benefited and whether any follow-up was provided until they found employment, the representative explained that prostitution was prohibited by the Prostitution Prevention Act and three women's vocational guidance centres were in operation to prevent the occurrence of prostitution and to reinstate prostitutes in society through technical and cultural training. She provided statistics.

Article 7

423. The Committee noted that it was stated in the second periodic report that there were 60 women legislators, but only 26.7 per cent had been elected from electoral districts, while the remaining 73.3 per cent occupied seats in the National Assembly as a result of the national representation system. Clarification of the national representation system and the electoral system was sought. The representative explained that there were two categories of constituency to elect members to the National Assembly, namely, the local electoral districts and the national electoral districts. The allocation of seats to national electoral districts was proportional to each political party that gained five or more seats in the general election for the local constituencies. In cases where there were political parties that had obtained no seat or that had gained five or fewer seats in the general election for local constituencies, but had obtained a number of votes exceeding 0.3 per cent of the total valid votes, then one seat would be allotted preferentially to each of those political parties.

424. The Committee noted that, in the last National Assembly, only 6 out of a total of 299 deputies were women, and in the election of 24 March 1992 the number of female parliamentarians had further dropped to 3. Members asked what was preventing women from attaining high positions and what had been done to ensure their equal representation. The representative said that in the Thirteenth National Assembly, for the term 1988-1991, all the parliamentarians had been elected in the national electoral districts. However, no female candidates in the local electoral districts had been successful. Since the composition of the parliament depended on the political parties and three of the four main parties had merged, the number of female parliamentarians representing the parties in the electoral districts had accordingly decreased.

425. Concerning public affairs, she said that the level of women in politics and in decision-making had not changed significantly. Women were poorly represented in decision-making positions in the Government. In terms of cultural and social activities, the consumers' movement and some women's organizations had been successful, although some women's organizations suffered from financial difficulties.

Article 8

426. In answer to a question on the percentage of women in the diplomatic corps and what had been done to increase female participation in higher positions in the international field, the representative stated that there were 58 women in the diplomatic corps, representing 4.9 per cent of the total at the end of 1992. The Government was developing a training programme to expand female participation in the international field.

Article 9

427. In connection with the withdrawal of the reservation to article 9, the representative said that the public hearing on that matter had been completed and the revision process was under way.

Article 10

428. Replying to a question concerning an assessment of the Sixth Five-Year National Socio-Economic Development Plan, 1987-1991, with regard to women's issues, the representative outlined the major problems that had been identified by the Committee on the Seventh Plan, such as the lack of equality in education and sex-segregated training. A different educational environment had been created for each sex because of traditional sex roles and prejudices. The differences covered curricula, textbooks, choice of fields of study, educational and vocational guidance, opportunities to study science and technology, training in women's institutions, and teachers' lack of awareness of gender issues.

429. As girl students accounted for only 1.4 per cent of the student body of technical vocational schools, members wished to know whether there were any data on the number of girl students attending vocational high schools, according to the subjects that they specialized in, and whether measures were being taken to encourage more girls to follow technical vocational training or to study technology at universities. They also wished to know how many scholarships and fellowships had been granted to girls to encourage them to follow careers in non-traditional fields. The representative indicated that male students constituted the majority of students specializing in engineering, agriculture and science, while females were highly represented in commercial high schools. She provided statistics on vocational high-school enrolment by gender. She indicated further that the Government had established a girls' high school to encourage more girls to pursue technical vocational training and that the number of such schools would be increased. One women's university was in the process of establishing a college of engineering.

Article 11

430. The Committee noted that the revised Equal Employment Opportunity Act included the principle of equal pay for equal work regardless of the workers' sexual identity. Members asked whether that principle had been put into practice and whether there had been difficulties in applying it. The representative said that, in 1991, the Government had furnished all industries with guidelines for eliminating sexual discrimination in employment in order to help ensure the strict enforcement of the Act; however, employers had not abandoned many discriminatory practices. There were no concrete standards for determining discrimination nor were there concrete guidelines for determining the equal nature of work.

431. Asked about the percentage of divorced and separated women in the labour force, the representative said that, in 1988, the marriage rate was 62.7 per 1,000 persons and the divorce rate was 1.7 per 1,000 persons in the labour force; however, the divorce rate had risen to 1.8 per 1,000 persons in 1990 while the marriage rate had remained unchanged.

432. The question was raised whether efforts had been made to procure employment for women who had lost their jobs in the traditional labour-intensive manufacturing trade, as it was transferred elsewhere. The representative stated that the Government was shifting the emphasis of its vocational training to the professional and technical fields after recognizing the changed structure of the industry, which was expanding the opportunities for retraining female workers who had lost their jobs in the labour-intensive sectors. In 1991, the Government had opened a vocational training school for women, which provided courses on office automation, metal crafts, electronics, machine design and fashion design.

433. She provided statistics in answer to a question on the unemployment rate of women according to industrial sector.

434. Asked whether women workers were being trained to perform in traditional occupations, the representative said that, in order to promote women's advancement into non-traditional fields, the Government had founded the An Sung Vocational Training Centre for Women, which provided training programmes for technicians. The Government and some women's organizations were also concentrating their efforts on developing non-traditional occupations for women.

435. In answer to the question whether the Government encouraged women's education for employment that would give them higher pay and status, the representative referred to the Model Career Guidance Programme. The Government was also trying to increase high-tech vocational training and in-service training.

436. Regarding welfare, the representative said that the Government provided selective welfare programmes for the less privileged, based on the principle that the family was primarily responsible for welfare and that the social security system was secondary to the family. The Government's social welfare was based on selection, while the women's welfare programme was focused on children and the less privileged.

Article 12

437. The representative said that, in April 1989, the Maternal-Child Welfare Act was enacted to support fatherless families and unwed mothers. Under the Act, the Government had constructed 77 maternal and child-health centres to improve the health of mothers and children.

438. Asked whether abortion was legally permitted and, if so, under what circumstances, the representative explained that, according to the Criminal Act, abortion was prohibited. Offenders were fined 10,000 won (US$ 12) or imprisoned for up to one year. However, abortion was allowed in exceptional cases under the Maternal and Child Health Act.

439. In answer to a question concerning the family planning policy of the Republic of Korea, the representative said that the country had had comparative success in controlling its population by means of family planning. As a result, the rate of population increase had dropped to 0.96 per cent in 1992 from 3 per cent in 1960; while the total fertility rate had dropped to 1.6 per cent from 6 per cent in the same period. Major family planning programmes included social support programmes, government-supplied contraceptive services and sterilization operations. One of the reasons for the country's success was the activities of the women's groups.

440. Replying to a question on the effects of AIDS on the situation of women and on the action taken to cater to the needs of those women who were sero-positive, the representative said that, under the AIDS Prevention Act of December 1987, regular medical check-ups were provided for vulnerable groups of the population, all donated blood was tested, and education and counselling were provided for those who were infected. At 31 December 1992, there were 245 sero-positive persons, including 27 women, of whom 11 were commercial sexual workers, but since 1989 no further cases had been reported. Out of 10 reported cases of AIDS, 8 had been fatal.

Article 13

441. Members noted that the Government of Korea "had emphasized the protection of fatherless families" and asked how widespread the problem was and what the main reasons were for the single mothers that had led to the enactment of the Maternal-Child Welfare Act. The representative explained that the main reasons for the single mothers were death of spouse (75 per cent), divorce (12 per cent), abandonment by spouse (3 per cent) unknown whereabouts of spouse (3 per cent) and unmarried mothers (3 per cent). The problems of fatherless families were mainly poverty, child education, and mental insecurity. According to the Maternal-Child Welfare Act, low-income female-headed families with children of 18 years or younger were entitled to protection. She said that the Government had been providing such families with the means to raise and educate their children (including middle and high schools and vocational training). From 1992, such families had priority over others in the allocation of permanent rental apartments.

Article 15

442. Asked whether women could obtain a bank loan or conclude contracts without the consent of their husbands, she said that anyone who had an income or who owned property was qualified to obtain a bank loan in the Republic of Korea. The consent of the husband was not necessary in order to conclude a contract.

443. In answering a question on the prospect of changing the law concerning inheritance so that women farmers could inherit land from their deceased husbands and not be bypassed because of their sex, the representative said that the Family Law provided for the equal status of women in the family, especially regarding property. Both wife and husband had an equal right to property acquired after marriage, and had the right to ask for an equal division of such property. In accordance with the revised Family Law, the Government had revised the inheritance law in 1990 and had increased the inheritance tax allowance for spouses, based on the recognition that an unemployed spouse and especially a housewife also had significant property rights. Accordingly, women farmers could inherit land from their deceased husbands.

Article 16

444. Regarding the State party's reservation to article 16, paragraph 1 (g), the representative indicated that it was the custom to use the paternal name as the family name and there was rarely any objection to that custom; however, when the revision of the Family Registration Act began, that custom could change.

445. In answer to a question about the equal right of the husband and wife with regard to property based on the extent of their contribution to the accumulated assets, even if the wife had never worked outside the home, the representative explained that, in accordance with the revised Family Law, the Government had revised the provisions on family registration, tax, and domestic litigation to re-establish the relationship between family members.

446. According to the draft of the bill revising the Family Law, the custody of children upon divorce would be decided on by the court. A question was raised as to whether that provision constituted discrimination against mothers. The representative indicated that the custody of the children upon divorce was determined either by the couple's mutual agreement or the court in accordance with the current family code. That meant that if the wife could not achieve her wish on the basis of mutual agreement, she could go to court.

447. Asked whether there was a criterion or jurisprudence on who was to have custody of the children, the representative said that, according to article 837 (divorce and responsibility for fostering and education of the children), in the absence of an agreement on matters concerning fostering and education, the Family Court could decide on matters necessary for such fostering and education by taking into consideration the age of the children, the property status of the father and mother and any other circumstances. The Family Court could also at any time change such provisions or take any other proper disposition.

Concluding observations

448. Members thanked the representatives for the detailed answers that had been provided to the questions. Additional clarification was sought on a number of points, including the participation of women in political life, the measures envisaged to encourage women to take a more active part in the economic sector, and the provisions on family rights, education and health. Other members expressed their concern that the second periodic report lacked statistics and information on labour laws, especially in view of the country's high rate of economic growth, on the coordination of the different bodies dealing with women's issues and on the practice of sterilization, which seemed to be a widespread phenomenon. The Committee also expressed its concern about the reservations to the Convention made by the Government of the Republic of Korea, and hoped that it would consider withdrawing those reservations.

449. In expressing her appreciation for the detailed answers, the Chairperson said that there were still some obstacles discriminating against women in the Republic of Korea, such as family laws, traditions and discrimination at the workplace. She hoped that the third periodic report would be better and would include all the necessary information and statistical data that had been requested by the Committee.

450. In her final reply, the representative of the Republic of Korea indicated that her Government would attempt to withdraw the reservations. On the participation of women in decision-making, she assured members that the Republic of Korea would do its utmost to improve the situation of women. Other details were provided on such issues as maternity leave, the functioning of the national machinery and family law.

URL for areas of image outside of any defined elements.