Korea: Should Adultery be a Crime?

Do you remember the movie "The Scarlet Letter"? This movie opens with Hester being led to the scaffold where she is to be publicly shamed for having committed adultery. Hester is forced to wear the letter "A" - which is an initial of the term "adultery" - on her gown always.
What about "The Bridges of Madison County"? This movie is about the love between a middle-aged, Italian-American housewife and a photographer of National Geographic. But what if they met and fell in love with each other in Korea? They might be punished in the name of "LAW".

Should adultery be a crime? One of major debates in Korea these days. Responding to a challenge by a couple having an extramarital affair, the Constitutional Court on Oct. 25 ruled that Article 241 of the criminal law is constitutional. This is the third time since 1990 that Article 241 has been challenged.

The Court said that the law was necessary to preserve the morals and the integrity of a monogamous society and also to protect society from family problems and other ills that arise from adultery. However, the Court proposed that lawmakers seriously consider whether or not to abolish Article 241 as a criminal offense in view of the legal codes in other countries and changes in Korea's attitudes toward sex.

According to a recent survey, 69% of the respondents - 55% of the males and 84% of the females - support the law. But 75% of all Korean men admit to adultery while only 15% of females do. Civic and feminist groups are taking up the debate. There are various voices on this issue. Park So Hyun, an advisor at "The Korean Legal Aid Center for Family Relations" says "We support the adultery law because of women's economic situation. If women divorced, they would be in trouble because women have less ability to make money. The law also upholds moral, family and traditional values."

"The government should not interrupt the people's right to pursue love and happiness with those of their choosing", says Yang Hai Kyoung, chief advisor of "the Korean Women Link."

"Private rights need to be protected. People used to think that the law was intended to protect women but this is not the real situation," she continues. "Even though men commit adultery more than women do, men complain about adultery more than women. Women tend to bear the burden of adultery. Therefore, the law is not effective in dealing with adultery," she adds.

Editor of "If" (a feminist magazine) Kim-Shin Myung Sook says "Adultery laws are no longer effective because society is changing. People assume that Article 241 is for women. But nowadays women are also committing adultery. So the law doesn't protect women's rights."

Kim Sung Chun, professor of law at Choongang University, says: "Even though adultery is morally or ethically bad, there is something wrong for the criminal law to deal with adultery because criminal law is the law that deals with social crimes." "Even though there is some good function of this law in that it can protect women who are seen as weak in society, there are some problems as women use the law to get revenge," she says.

"Korea, Taiwan, Greece, Switzerland and Austria are the only non-Muslim countries that still criminalize adultery. As Korea's social structure modernizes, pressure will mount to rescind this law in Korea," she adds.

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