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The Peninsula

South Koreans Debate the Government’s Role in Shaping Social Morality

Published August 22, 2019
Author: Korea View
Category: South Korea

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • petition calling for the Korean government to ban the purchase of life-sized sex dolls received over 260,000 signature in one month.
  • This comes in response to a Supreme Court ruling on June 27 that upheld individuals’ right to buy life-size sex dolls.
  • The Supreme Court’s position was consistent with the decision from the Seoul High Court that dignity and freedom were not grounds for the government’s intrusion into individuals’ private affairs.
  • Prior to 2019, sex dolls had been banned under a law that restricts the purchase of products that “corrupt public morals.”

Implications: Although President Moon Jae-in’s economic policies and his approach to North Korea dominate political discourse in South Korea, issues related to social morality have the potential to be politically explosive. The petition against the Supreme Court’s ruling is notable because only about 100 petitions since 2017 have received over 200,000 signatures. In fact, the petition against life-sized sex dolls received more signatures more quickly than calls for President Moon’s impeachment. This suggests that social morality could become a wedge issue in Korean politics that realigns constituencies.

Context: A coalition of different civil society organizations have come together to advocate for the ban on life-sized sex dolls. Activists who oppose all forms of pornography are on the forefront of the protest. These petitioners argue that allowing sex dolls to be freely purchased could risk an increase in sex crimes. This group won a victory earlier this year when the courts responded to the scandals around the illegal distribution of pictures of women by banning access to pornography sites.

Others support the restriction on more technical grounds. They point out that South Korea lacks the strict regulations around these products seen in countries like the United States and Canada. These groups want to ensure that laws are in place that prevent sex dolls being made in the likeness of anybody or resembling children.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Yusong Cha and Hyoshin Kim.

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