중앙데일리

Proposed law revisions will allow women to render alternate service.

How is Korea’s military service being opened to women?

July 31,2007
New draftees undergo basic military training at a boot camp.

Korean women are exempt from the country’s mandatory military service, but if legislative amendments currently being proposed by the Defense Ministry are passed, they will be allowed to participate in alternate service that until now had been open only to men. The move follows the government’s decision earlier this month to widen the country’s military service.
All Korean men are required to serve 24 months in the military. The length of service actually varies, depending on the military branch. Recruits are classified into five levels after physical and psychological evaluations. Until now, anyone falling below the lowest fourth and fifth levels are exempted from active military service. Some of those in the fourth level must serve in less physically demanding duties such as working at district offices.
Those who have only a middle school education and those who fail to meet the required physical standards are put into the fifth level category. However, a cabinet meeting decided that even this group would have to render some form of substitute service, such as working at an orphanage, unless the person in question is judged physically and mentally incapable of performing even routine social functions.
Korean men who are allowed into alternative service are expected to undergo a basic boot camp course for two weeks and then train for another two to three weeks in the workplace where they are expected to serve. The service period will be 22 months, but for those serving in a medical workplace, that period can be as long as three years. Those who seek work in organizations engaged in international activities will have to serve 30 months; those in the arts and athletic fields serve a total of 34 months.
Women are expected to be allowed to apply for this form of duty and receive additional points when seeking a job in the public sector after they complete alternative service. Currently, an amendment to the military law that gives additional points to discharged soldiers when applying for a government job is pending at the National Assembly military committee. In 1999, the Constitutional Court ruled that giving discharged men an advantage when applying for a job was against the principle of equality and the benefit was scrapped. Now, the Defense Ministry is seeking to reintroduce the measure. “If the measure is restored, women who have served in alternative duties can also receive a lift when applying for a job,” said an official at the Defense Ministry. “We plan to push through with the amendment so that the measure comes into effect by 2009.”
Measures to allow every citizen to serve in one form or another under the country’s mandatory military service reflect the government’s intention to silence critics who say that some people who are exempted from the service for various reasons are taking the easy way out while others do the hard work in the military. An ongoing investigation into possible abuse of a current system that allows qualified people to substitute work at private companies for military service has given the ministry more reason to try to fix current regulations.

Soldiers patrol border fences. [JoongAng Ilbo archives]
Nevertheless, civic groups are criticizing the ministry’s move, arguing that the measures are not really aimed at giving equality to women who want to serve but rather to curb potential criticism when benefits for discharged soldiers are reintroduced.
The government expects the new measures to go into effect next year with a total of 19,000 alternative service positions available. That number is scheduled to be increased to 52,000 by 2012. Apart from orphanages, facilities for the care of the disabled and the elderly, emergency transport services and subway station safety personnel are expected to benefit from these measures, but it is unclear how many women would take the opportunity.
In addition to allowing women into the substitute services, the Defense Ministry has also decided to introduce a system under which those who have done their mandatory service can serve additional time with pay. The extended service period ranges from six to 18 months with an annual salary of 14 million won ($15,000). These measures come amid efforts by the military to trim its ranks by 2020 from the current 680,000 to 500,000, making up for the loss in manpower by upgrading weaponry.


by Brian Lee Staff Writerafricanu@joongang.co.kr



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