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Gender and Land Rights Database

Republic of Korea

Rights entrenched in the Constitution

The Constitution, 1948; amended in 1952, 1954, twice in 1960, 1962, 1972, 1980 and 1987:

  • Article 11 [1]: “All citizens shall be equal before the law, and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social or cultural life on account of sex, religion or social status.”
  • Article 23: “The right of property of all citizens shall be guaranteed”. Also, “expropriation, use or restriction of private property from public necessity and compensation therefore shall be governed by Act, provided, that in such a case, just compensation shall be paid.”
  • Article 36: “Marriage and family life shall be entered into and sustained on the basis of individual dignity and equality of the sexes, and the State shall do everything in its power to achieve that goal.”
  • Article 37 provides that “freedoms and rights of citizens shall not be neglected on the grounds that they are not enumerated in the Constitution”. However, “the freedoms and rights of citizens may be restricted by Act only when necessary for national security, the maintenance of law and order or for public welfare. Even when such restriction is imposed, no essential aspect of the freedom or right shall be violated.”
  • Article 32 [4] provides for special protection for working women who “shall not be subjected to unjust discrimination in terms of employment, wages and working conditions.” (19)

Women's property and use rights in personal laws

The Civil Act, 1948, as amended in 2007:

  • Marriage shall be based on the consensus of both parties. A marriage is void if not based on consensus, and any person who married due to fraud or threat may annul the marriage (20).
  • Husband and wife have equal rights and responsibilities as spouses, including the responsibility to cohabit and to support each other and the right to represent each other.
  • Parental rights are guaranteed equally to both parents based on mutual agreement or the decision of the court.
  • Children are given the family names of their biological fathers by default but, from 2008, they can also be given their mother’s name, if the parents agree prior to marriage. Also, if the mother remarries, children may apply to a court to take the stepfather’s family name (13).
  • Property owned by either of the spouses prior to marriage remains under the same ownership. Property acquired by either of the spouses also remains under her or his title even though the acquisition occurred during their marriage. That part of property for which there is no clearly established ownership may be deemed the spouses’ common property. Spouses may also enter a property contract system (20).
  • When a marriage is dissolved through divorce, a spouse may request the other party for the division of common property. The wife’s contribution is recognized as being from 1/5 to 1/3 of all the properties. When the wife has a job with an income, the contribution from 1/3 to 1/2 of the all the properties (20).
  • The 2005 amendment abolished the remarriage prohibition period clause (13). Until the amendment, divorced women could remarry no sooner than six months after the date on which the previous marriage ended to avoid possible conflicts in paternity claims (20).

The Nationality Act, 1948, as amended until 1998:

  • A foreign national who marries a Korean citizen can acquire nationality after residing in Korea more than two years after marriage and gaining permission from the Minister of Justice for naturalization.
  • Married women have the right to choose their own nationality instead of automatically acquiring that of the husband, and are free to obtain naturalization regardless of the husband also being naturalized (20).
  • A child born to either a Korean father or mother can obtain nationality. For children born to Korean mothers before the 1998 revision and therefore denied nationality, recourse is available through application for nationality (20).

The Equal Employment Act, 1987, as amended in 2006:

  • Prohibits discriminative acts regarding employment based on the grounds of gender, religion, disability, age, social status, hometown, nationality, citizenship, physical condition, marital status, pregnancy and childbirth, family background, race, skin colour, political opinion, expired criminal record, sexual orientation, and health record (13). Indirect discrimination and sexual harassment at the workplace are also prohibited by the 1999 revision of the act (20).
  • An Equal Employment Committee is established in each local labour administration office to mediate in disputes regarding employment discrimination against women, maternity leave and child care facilities. (20).
  • Public corporations and large enterprises with more than 500 employees are required to report the gender-disaggregated employment status each year. Those who fail to meet the target quota of female employment must create an action programme to increase employment of women and report it to the Government. (13).

The Framework Act on Employment Policy, 1993, as amended in 2005:

  • Prohibits the use of “marriage or pregnancy” as grounds for differential treatment. Accordingly, inclusion of questions regarding gender, marital and pregnancy status in all employment-related documents is forbidden, so long as they are not directly related to the job in hand (13).

The Labour Standards Act, 1997, as amended in 2007:

  • Places restriction on the termination of employment to protect women from discriminatory lay-offs during companies restructuring. A fine of up to 5 million Won is imposed in the case of violation of the principle of equal treatment, and a maximum of 5 years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million Won for violation of provisions on women’s protection. A worker may request redress to the Labour Relations Commission under the Minister of Labour (20).

An Act on the Gender Equality Employment and Support for Work-Family Balance, 2007:

  • Introduced i. paternity leave for the husband to assist his wife after birth; ii. a shorter work time for women to enable them to attend to family responsibilities instead of using  their child-care leave; iii. investigation of the status of work-family balance on a regular basis; iv. measures to promote employment and develop the capabilities of female workers who quit their job for reasons of childbirth and child-rearing but are willing to return later to their jobs (21).

The National Pension Act, 1995, was revised in 2000

  • Allows daughters to continue to benefit from family pension even after marriage (20).

The Framework Act on Healthy Family, 2005

  • Prescribes that each family member take part in running the family, including income earning, children-raising and domestic labour. It mandates the Government to provide broader family-support services and family life training and to take measures to promote family culture based on the notion of gender equality (13).

Inheritance legal mechanisms

The Civil Act, 1948 as amended in 2007:

  • In the absence of a will, the law prescribes the proportions inherited. First, the children and spouse inherit; they are entitled to one half of the estate. Children inherit an equal amount among themselves regardless of gender. In their absence, the spouse inherits, while one third is reserved for parents or siblings. If two or more co-heirs exist of the same rank, their shares are equally divided, but the portion inherited by the spouse is fifty percent greater than the portion inherited by the co-heirs. In the absence of brothers or sisters, the collateral blood relatives within the fourth degree of the deceased inherit (22).
  • Any person who is entitled to a reserved portion can demand to receive their inheritance by law (22).
  • Any person over the age of 16 can make a will using the methods prescribed by law. A will is invalid unless written in ways prescribed by law (22).
  • There are no restrictions on the age of heirs. A child who is not of legal age can inherit real property; however, if such property is registered in the name of the child, or sold, then a person with parental authority or a guardian must represent the child. Parental authority in respect of the child is vested in his/her parent. In the absence of a parent, or if the parent is not qualified to exercise his/her authority, the child must be represented by a guardian. A guardian may be appointed in a will, or by a parent exercising his/her authority among people who have a kinship with the child, or else a guardian may be appointed by the court (22).

In 2005, the Constitutional Court abolished the family headship system, whereby inheritance moved from male head of the household to his son, on the account of unconformity to the Constitution. This amendment to the Civil Law has gone into effect in January 2008 (13).

Land Legislation

The Agricultural Land Reform Amendment Act (ALRAA), 1950:

  • “Any individual can own agricultural land but only if he or she cultivates or manages it for himself or herself; second, one can own approximately three hectares at maximum; and third, tenancy arrangements and land-renting activities are legally prohibited (23).”

The most important measures in the ALRAA were:
i. The government was to buy farmland owned by non-farmers, according to the principle of land-to-the-tiller.
ii. Maximum farm size was set at 3 ha, and any farmland in excess of this limit had to be sold to the government.
iii. Farmland sold to the government was distributed to small farmers and former tenants who wished to continue farming.
iv. Farmers who received land from the government were to pay back the cost of the land to the government within five years.
v. The government was to compensate landlords for their farmland (24).

The Framework Act on National Land, 2002

  • Article 1: “The purpose of this Act is to contribute to the sound development of the national land and the improvement of the national welfare by providing for fundamental matters concerning the formulation and implementation of plans for and policies on the national land”.
  • Article 9: The Ministry of Construction and Transportation [today Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs (MLTM)] is responsible for the formulation of the comprehensive national land plan.
  • Article 10: The comprehensive national land plan shall contain the basic and long-term policy directions as to the following matters: 

i. .The current status of national land, and the prospect of changes in circumstances;
ii. The basic ideas for national land development;
iii. The improvement of spatial structures of national land, and a direction for sharing the functions by region;
iv. A policy for the balanced development of national land, and the fostering of regional industries;
vi. The elevation of national competitiveness, and the expansion of key facilities of national land forming the basis for nationals’ living;
vii. The efficient utilization and management of national land resources, such as lands, water resources, forest resources and marine resources, etc;
viii. The creation of living conditions and the improvement of living qualities;
ix. The prevention of flood damages, wind damages, and other disasters;
x. The rational utilization and management of underground spaces;
xi. Matters for the conservation and improvement of national and environments for the sustainable development of national land.

  • Article 13, 16 and 17: The head of central administrative agency and the Mayor/Do governor shall reflect the contents of the comprehensive national land plan in the policies and plans related to his competent duties, and formulate an implementation schedule by competence in order to execute the comprehensive national land plan and submit such schedule to the Minister of Construction and Transportation. Any head of a central administrative agency may formulate a plan by sector as to his competent duties, covering the entire national land.
  • Article 24 [1]: The Government shall prepare an annual report on the major policy for the national land plan and utilization and submit it to the National Assembly each year.
  • Article 26 [1]: The National Land Policy Committee shall be established under the President in order to deliberate on the major policies on the planning, utilization and management of the national land (25). 

The National Land Planning and Utilization Act, 2002, consolidated in 2005:

  • The State or local government shall take measures to efficiently utilize and manage national land that shall be divided into urban areas, control areas, agricultural and forest areas, and natural environment conservation areas (25).

The Cadastral Act, 2001, amended in 2003 and 2005:

  • The State shall register all lands in the cadastral record, after examining and surveying by parcel their location, parcel number, land category, area, boundary or coordinates.
  • The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs shall establish the Central Cadastral Committee. Landowners or interested parties may request the regional cadastral committee to deliberate on an examination of whether a cadastral survey is proper, through the competent Mayor/Do governor, as provided for by Article 45 (25).
  • The mayor, magistrate of a county and head of a ward is to entrust the competent register office with registration of the partition and annexation of land (21).
  • Local Cadastre Committees are also established in cities and provinces (21).

An Act on Special Cases concerning the Partition of Co-owned lands, 1995, amended in 2003:

  • Provides for the establishment of the Co-owned Land Partition Committee and for its composition and functions. The Committee deliberates on the matters concerning partitions of co-owned land. Co-owners may apply for partition of co-owned land to the competent authority by obtaining the consent of not less than one fifth of the total number of co-owners (25).
  • The partition of the co-owned land shall be made on the basis of a current state of occupation by each co-owner. After the final partition decision, the competent authority shall immediately register it on the land cadaster and commission the competent court registry to register the partition (21).

The Farmland Act, 1994, amended in 2002:

  • A person who intends to acquire farmland must obtain the qualification certificate.
  • No farmland shall be leased with charge or leased free of charge except for cases listed in this law.
  • The Mayor/Do governor shall designate agricultural development regions for the efficient utilization and preservation of farmland.
  • A person who wishes to divert the use of farmland must obtain the permission of the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. The Farmland Administration Committee shall be established for the efficient management of farmland and the lease of it, (25).

Policies/Institutional mechanisms enforcing or preventing women’s land rights

- The Korean Women Development Institute (KWDI) was established in 1983 as the national machinery to deal exclusively with women’s affairs. It was set up to carry out research on women’s issues, develop policies and women’s abilities and increase women’s social participation and welfare (26).

- The Rural Women Policy Division of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries was established in 1998. The division develops educational programmes for rural women, promotes measures to include more women in programmes for agricultural development and supports the welfare of women living in farming villages (20).

- The Advisory Committee for Fostering Women Farmers was established in 2002, as provided for by the Act on Fostering Women Farmers. Its main task is to enhance women’s participation in the decision-making process of agricultural policies. Efforts in this direction have led to an increase of women in relevant government advisory committees, including those in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (13).

- The Rural Development Administration (RDA), the central government organization for agricultural research and extension services, supports rural women’s organizations through non-formal adult education, support for non-farm income activities, and capacity building activities. As of 2004, RDA had subsidized 169 projects at the national level and more than 700 at the local level (27).

- The Women Farmers’ Policy Council is responsible for studying policy directions for women farmers. The Council is comprised of related government agencies, women farmers’ organizations and policy experts (13).

- The Basic Act on Agriculture and Agricultural Communities, 1999 lists the responsibilities of national and local governments in developing rural women’s resources, and provides for the formulation and implementation of a Five-Year Plan for Fostering Women Farmers (20).

- The Young Farmer Nurturing Program was designated by the government to encourage young people to engage in agriculture as young farmers agricultural successors. From 1992 to 2000, 5 897 women have been selected as young farmers (20). However, the rate of female successor is still low and attained 5 percent of the total in 2005 (20).

- The  Women Agricultural Workers Training Act, 2001 provides for the implementation of policies to assist women workers in agriculture, with the goal of increasing agricultural productivity and promoting the quality of life of women agricultural workers (20).

- The Five Year Plan for Fostering Women Farmers, started in 2001, plans to increase to 20 percent the ratio of women in the Young Farmer Nurturing Program, which subsidizes the establishment of new farms and provides funds for the improvement of management. The plan also set the target for enhancing women’s participation in agricultural cooperatives at 50 percent of total membership (13).

- The  Special Act on Improving Quality of Life in Rural Areas and Promoting Rural Development, 2004 requires the central and local governments to extend active support to mothers in rural areas (13).

The government has established women farmers’ centres that provide comprehensive services, such as childcare subsidies, consulting and educational sessions for women farmers. After a pilot operation of four centres in 2001, a total of 18 centres, two in each province, were built during 2002-2003, reaching a total of 38 centres in 2006 (13).

- The Agricultural Work Device Development and Supply Program, started in 2004, distributes work devices to rural households. Special devices have been developed to enhance the efficiency of agricultural work done by women (13).

- The Government’s Work Assistance Programme provides for paid assistance to women farmers who are expecting or have given births. The programme was introduced in 2000 and expanded nationwide in 2003. Since its implementation, the number of beneficiaries nearly doubled from 1 692 in 2001 to 3 370 in 2004 (13).

- As of 2007, Government’s policy initiatives included improving the legal status of female farmers, by certifying a rural woman as a farmer, and supporting women’s organizations efforts to ensure female farmers have joint-ownership of farmland acquired after marriage (28).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography