South Korea is one of the few non-Muslim countries that have laws criminalizing adultery, which has been in place since 1953. The anti-adultery law was enacted at that time of the country’s formation when it emerged from the ashes of the Korean war when social morals were still entrenched and men held most of the economic power, while women were confined to their traditional roles as homemakers. This was used to protect women against philandering men. The preceding line was exactly the reason why the Constitutional Court struck down the law that has been in place for 62 years, bringing the country more in consonant with the modern age now in 2015, where the roles of women in South Korea have shifted tremendously with the current President Park Guen-he who is a woman.
The justices contended that the law was enacted to give a measure of leverage to women who were entirely dependent on their husband for livelihood and if the men committed adultery, it would give the wife an advantage, in most cases monetary compensation. But that was viewed through the periscope of the lawmakers at that time in 1953. The justices further concurred in 7 against 2 dissent that marriage is a private matter and there are limits for the State to intrude.
“The precondition of human dignity and right to pursue happiness is for each individual to have their rights to choose their fate,” the court ruled, saying that one’s sex life is private. “And the rights to choose their fate includes rights to be engaged in sex and choosing the partner.” the judges said as reported by CNN.
Though viewed by most at this age as a private matter, a record of 5,500 people have been indicted in a period of 6 years. In 1998, the law became a national focus when the country’s best known actress, Ok So-Ri was indicted for adultery. She successfully petitioned to the Supreme Court, arguing that the law was tantamount to a violation of human rights in the name of revenge.
“But it has long lost that relevance,” said Kim Jung-Beom, a lawyer and specialist on family law, as reported in Guardian UK.
“For a start, the number of female ‘offenders’ has increased, and in some ways the law has become a way of naming and shaming women,” Kim said.