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(2nd LD) S. Korea repeals anti-cheating law

All Headlines 16:39 February 26, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with reaction from experts, activists, citizens at bottom)
By Park Sojung

SEOUL, Feb. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Constitutional Court threw out a decades-old anti-adultery law on Thursday, reflecting a growing importance of personal choice over marital order in a traditionally group-oriented society.

In a 7-2 decision, the nine-member bench ruled that Article 241 of the criminal code was unconstitutional.

"The article violates individuals' freedom to choose their sexual partners and their right to privacy," said an opinion presented by five of the justices. "Not only is the anti-adultery law gradually losing its place in the world, it no longer reflects our people's way of thinking."

Two other justices supported this view, saying family issues should not be criminal, or even if so, the weight of the penalty should vary according to the intricacy of the matter.

The remaining two justices voiced opposition, saying the law was necessary to protect sexual ethics and the institution of marriage.

Under the landmark ruling, some 5,400 people indicted or convicted of adultery after Oct. 30, 2008, when the law was last upheld, may ask for a suspension of indictment or a retrial.

South Korea had been one of the few remaining countries in Asia that prohibits infidelity, next to North Korea and Taiwan. Extramarital affairs here had been banned under the criminal law since 1953, and before that, only women were held accountable for some fooling around.

Sentences have been relatively heavy, with jail time ranging up to two years being the only fate a cheater and his affair partner could face. In Taiwan, the sentences range up to just one year in prison.

Previously, the court had turned down petitions to repeal the law four times from 1990 to 2008. In 2008, however, the judges supporting personal freedom became a majority, but were only one vote shy of realizing a change.
Some 100,000 South Koreans have been convicted of adultery since 1953. But the conviction rate dwindled from two-thirds between 1985 and now, to below 1 percent between late 2008 and early this year.

Many experts and activists welcomed the ruling, saying it demonstrated progress in women's rights.

"The anti-cheating law has been traditionally aimed at punishing women, but those days are long gone now," Song Jae-ryong, a sociology professor at Kyung Hee University, said.

Others said the law was practically non-existent, as it had lost its effectiveness in preventing infidelity.

"The anti-adultery law is no longer achieving its purpose," Kim Jeong-beom, a law professor at Hangyang University, said. "Penalties have become extremely light and don't have the preventative effect they're supposed to have."

The state shouldn't interfere in personal matters, which should be settled in a civil manner, another expert said.

Public reaction, however, was mixed, with some voicing concerns that the ruling may encourage promiscuity.

"I'm worried that the decision would make people less responsible to their spouses," said Lee Gyu-yeong, a teacher.

But others supported it, saying it enhanced personal freedom.

"It's not appropriate for the criminal code to intervene in people's love life," Kim Min-soo, an office worker, said. "And it's not like the ruling would make people feel freer to cheat than before."


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