Writing for Time.com, Steve Finch reports from the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on how the guardians of the South are reconsidering a six decades-old policy of mandatory military service.
Disputes over the nation’s mandatory military service — a policy that has been in place for the full 63 years of the country’s existence — have been brewing for years. Civic and human rights’ groups, students, the political opposition, women’s organizations, men who have been deemed healthy enough to serve and critics of some privileged few who have not have all asked who should serve, the extent to which objectors should be tolerated and whether those that do their time deserve bonuses upon re-entering the job market. The policy of compensating soldiers returning to work, abolished in 1999 on sexual equality grounds, is now gaining popularity again: A Gallup Korea poll at the end of May found nearly 80% of South Koreans are in favor of reinstating the payment.
Meanwhile, dodging the draft has become something of an art. Conscientious objectors and the rich and famous have gone to extraordinary lengths to escape the draft, an act which carries a minimum 18 months in prison. Some have opted for last-minute full-body tattoos that disqualify them for service; others have lost extreme amounts of weight to fail the medical exam, faked personal records or even changed their nationality. At present, 850 South Koreans are in jail for dodging the draft, including many Jehovah’s Witnesses who say it is contrary to the ‘love thy neighbor’ doctrine, according to Amnesty International.