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Conscription in South Korea

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Title: Conscription in South Korea  
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Conscription in South Korea

Conscription, or mandatory military service or compulsory national service, is legislated in South Korea, with military service stated in Chapter II Article 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea for all citizens. The current Conscription Law, enacted in 1965, however, applies only to males, aged between 18 and 35,[1] although women are allowed to enroll in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps as of 2010.[2]


It is administered by the Military Manpower Administration. There are two tiers of service: active duty or non-active duty service.[3] Length of service varies according to branches: 21 months for Army and Marine Corps, 23 months for Navy, 24 months for Air Force.[4] The non-active duty service, e.g. civil service or public service worker, is from 24 months to 36 months.

South Korea currently has among the longest military service periods in the world, ranked behind Israel and Singapore. In recent years, there has been pressure from the public demanding either a shortening of the term or a switch to voluntary military service, and from experts calling for a gradual phasing out rather than complete abolition.[5] However in December 2010, after taking into consideration of the 2010 ROKS Cheonan sinking and Bombardment of Yeonpyeong incidents, the government confirmed that there will be no reduction of service periods.[4]


Current conscription laws stipulate that athletes who win medals in the Olympic Games or gold medals in the Asian Games are granted exemptions but still required to do four weeks of basic training.[1] In 2011, the Military Manpower Administration proposed amendments to the exemptions: to include men who have not completed middle school, and to change to a points-based system on a prescribed scale for athletes who win in prestigious competitions. This is partly to address criticism for the easy exemptions and to recognise the privilege to those who show steady performance.[6]

Notable athletes who have been granted exemptions are the bronze medal winning football team of 2012 Summer Olympics[7][8] and swimmer Park Tae-hwan, who reported for four weeks of basic training on 4 October 2012,[9] and was discharged on 31 October from boot camp in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province.[10]


The following data is from 'Regulation on Public Servant Compensation', implemented on 6 January 2012.[11] Exchange rate as of 1 March 2014 (1066.10 to $1.00USD)
이등병 (Private) 일등병 (Private first class) 상등병 (Corporal) 병장 (Sergeant)
$76.45 (approx) per month
$82.73 (approx) per month
$91.45 (approx) per month
$101.30 (approx) per month

Minimum wage in the Republic of Korea for year 2011 was 902,880 KRW per month for 40 hour work week and 976,320 KRW per month for 44 hour work week.[12] Thus, compensation given to conscriptees are lower than the minimum wage.


The Department of Defense has revealed that it has failed to provide sneakers to 7,411 recruits who joined the military from 22 May to 4 June 2012, after the budget was insufficient for need. The Department originally projected the cost of each pair of sneakers to be 11,000 KRW However, the actual cost turned out to be 15,000 KRW.[13]

The office of National Assembly member Kim Kwang-jin of Democratic United Party revealed that cadets in Korea Military Academy were provided with sneakers worth 60,000 KRW and tennis shoes. Cadets in Korea Army Academy at Yeongcheon were provided with sneakers worth 64,250 KRW, in addition to running shoes and soccer shoes.[14]

Notable enlistments


  • So Ji-sub: February 2005 (24 months) - four weeks of basic training, followed by service as a public relations officer with the Mapo District Office in Seoul. Discharged in 27 April 2007.[15]
  • Ji Sung: 7 June 2005 (24 months) - at the Nonsan military camp in Chungcheongnam-do Province followed by active duty with the army[16] and designated as public ambassador of military affairs. Discharged on 6 June 2007.[17]


  • Kangta: April 2008 (21 months) - active duty. During which time he starred in military musical, Mine about the true life story of Lieutenant Lee Jong-myung, who lost his legs in a land mine explosion near the demilitarized zone, in June 2000, when he saved fellow soldier, Sul Dong-seob from the minefield.[21]
  • Yang Dong-geun: May 2008 (21 months) of active duty. During which time he also starred in military musical, Mine.[21]
  • Eric Mun of Shinhwa: October 2008 (24 months) - four weeks of basic training, followed by service as a public service worker. Discharged in 30 October 2010.[22]


  • Jun Jin of Shinhwa: 22 October 2009 (24 months) - four weeks of basic training at the Nonsan military camp in Chungcheongnam-do Province, followed by public service work.[30] He was discharged on 14 November 2011,[31] after working at the Gangnam Management Corporation, managing the culture center’s fitness club and parking lot.[32]
  • Boom: 29 October 2009 (22 months) at a military training center in Gangwon-do Province.[33] He reported to the 102 Replacement Depot in Chuncheon for six weeks of basic training followed by 22 months of active duty. He was discharged on 22 August 2011.
  • Lee Ki-woo: 9 November 2009 (22 months) - six weeks of basic training at the Nonsan military camp in Chungcheongnam-do Province, followed by active duty at the Armed Forces Seoul Hospital. He was discharged on 1 September 2011.[34]


  • Lee Min-woo of Shinhwa: February 2010 (24 months) - four weeks of basic training followed by service as a public service officer in Seoul Station. Discharged on 2 March 2012.[37]
  • Lee Joon-gi: 3 May 2010 (for 21 months) - five weeks of basic training at Nonsan military training camp followed by active duty with the Defense Media Agency of the Ministry of National Defense in Yongsan-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul.[44][45] He had initially applied for a postponement because he was in the midst of shooting film Grand Prix and was cast to star in television drama Faith. However Military Manpower Administration declined and send a final notice for enlistment, leading him to pull out of both projects.[46] He was discharged at 8:00 on 16 February 2012.[47][48]
  • Kim Nam-gil: 15 July 2010 (24 months) - four weeks of basic training at the Nonsan military camp in Chungcheongnam-do Province, followed by non-active duty as a public service worker.[58] He was discharged on 14 July 2012.[59]
  • Mithra Jin of Epik High: 3 August 2010 (21 months) - active duty at the 102 reserve in Chuncheon, then served as an infantry rifle soldier, a member of the military band and a GOP soldier, and finally at the Defense Media Agency (DEMA). He was discharged by the Ministry of Defense in Yongsan-gu, Seoul on 14 May 2012.[60]
  • Kim Ji-hoon: October 2010 (21 months) - active-duty soldier and was discharged from army base at Yongsan-gu, Seoul on 12 July 2012.[61]
  • Kang Dong-won: 18 November (24 months) - four weeks of basic training at the Nonsan military camp in Chungcheongnam-do Province, followed by non-active duty as a public service worker at Seoul City Research Institute of Public Health and Environment.[62] He was discharged on 12 November 2012.[63][64]


  • Kim Jae-wook: 5 July 2011 (21 months) - five weeks of basic military training, followed by active duty.[70]
  • Heechul of Super Junior: 1 September 2011 (24 months) - four weeks of basic training at the Nonsan military camp in Chungcheongnam-do Province, followed by service as a public service officer. He was discharged on 30 August 2013.[71]
  • Kim Joon of T-max: 29 September 2011 - four weeks of basic training, followed by duty as a conscripted policeman.[72]


  • Jay "Typhoon" Kim of TRAX: 26 March 2012 - four weeks of basic military training in Busan and then continued to serve as a public service worker. He is due to be discharged in 2014.[79]
  • Kim Kyu-jong of SS501: 23 July - four weeks of basic training at the recruit training center of the 35th division in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province and continue to serve for two years; expected to be discharged in 2014.[82][83] Kim was originally exempted because he's a hepatitis B carrier, however since a changed in the law he is eligible to serve non-active duty as a public service worker.[84]
  • Ji Hyun-woo: 7 August - with the Chuncheon 102nd Reserve Forces. He was due to enlist in July but it was delayed for one month while he recovered from a back injury suffered during the filming of Queen In-hyun's Man.[85]
  • Lee Hyun of 8Eight: 8 October - five weeks of basic training followed by duty as an active soldier for 21 months.[87]
  • Kim "X-Mas" Jung-mo of TRAX: 25 October - non-active duty as a public service worker for 23 months after completing four weeks of basic training. He was originally schedule to enlist with bandmate Jay "Typhoon" Kim but his scoliosis condition and a fractured collarbone delayed his enlistment.[88]
  • Leeteuk of Super Junior: 30 October - five weeks of basic training at a training camp in Uijeongbu in Gyeonggi Province, followed by active duty for 21 months. He was initially ineligible for active duty following his car crash in 2007 and an aggravated herniated disk, but after receiving treatment he was able to enlist for active duty.[89]



  • Seo Min-woo of 100%: 4 March for five weeks of basic training followed by 21 months as an active-duty soldier. He will finish his duty of 4 December 2015
  • Yoon Shi-yoon: 28 April secretly enlisted into the Marine Corps. Yoon had previously expressed his desire that he wanted to enlist secretly to avoid harming the other soldiers.[99]


The public is sensitive towards mandatory military service, but also has a low tolerance towards those who attempt to dodge or receive special treatment, especially after scandals of wealthy families caught trying to avoid their national duty. Those found or accused of draft dodging and negligence of duty often face harsh penalties and public backlash. According to Ha Jae-keun, a South Korean pop columnist, "The mood against draft-dodgers and negligence of duty is so hostile that nowadays entertainers feel it’s better to get it over and done with".[73][101]

Steve Yoo

In 2002, right before Korean American pop singer Steve Yoo was due to be drafted for his military service, he gave up his Korean nationality and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was born in Seoul and migrated to the United States at the age of 13. The South Korean government considered it an act of desertion and deported him, banning him from entering the country permanently.[102]

Song Seung-heon

In late 2004, it was revealed that actor Song Seung-heon had avoided his draft by taking medication to fail the military physical examination. Song had previously been exempted by claiming to have severe diabetes and high blood pressure, but that was found by the South Korean government to be false.[103] Amidst press coverage and public outcry, Song publicly apologised and agreed to immediately serve his two-year term in the military. Song was discharged on 15 November 2006 with the rank of Corporal.[104][105]

MC Mong

On 11 April 2011, rapper MC Mong was cleared of intentionally pulling out healthy teeth to be exempted from military duty but was sentenced to a suspended jail term of 6 months, probation for one year, and 120 hours of community service, for deliberately delaying enlistment on false grounds.[106] The court acknowledged that there was a delay in his military enlistment, however, they were unable to determine whether he was guilty of extracting teeth for the purpose of avoiding his military draft. In September 2011, it was reported that Mong has been banned by Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) and Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) from appearing in its TV shows, for draft dodging.[107]

Kim Mu-yeol

In June 2012 Kim Mu-yeol came under growing public criticism over allegations he dodged his compulsory military service. In a report released by the Korean Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), Kim was deemed fit to serve in active duty as a level two recruit after a March 2001 physical examination. However, throughout 2007 to 2009, Kim was granted postponement on the grounds that he was taking civil service examinations or had been admitted to a work training facility, neither of which took place. During this time he reportedly earned approximately ₩300 million from films, musicals and television work. In December 2009, he received his final notice for enlistment, having used up the 730 days allowed for postponement. He submitted a request to change his military status in January 2010 because of a knee injury, which was rejected. Finally, a valid exemption was granted on the grounds that he was a "low-income individual" and the sole provider for his family. BAI's contention was that Kim's income is substantially higher than the standard for disqualification due to poverty; thus, the Military Manpower Administration was negligent in their duties by granting the exemption.[108][109][110]

Kim’s agency Prain TPC defended him, stating that Kim had been supporting his family by working as a security guard, construction worker and at a mobile phone factory since his late teens. When his father collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage and was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, the treatments incurred a lot of debt for the family. Their worsening financial condition caused them to become totally dependent on Kim, resulting in his said filing for an exemption in 2010.[111] Given the publicity, a reinvestigation into the case was launched and Kim was asked by the production company to leave the film AM 11:00 (he was replaced by Choi Daniel).[112][113] On 4 October 2012, Kim released a statement that though there was no wrongdoing on his part, he had decided to voluntarily enter the army "to recover his honor damaged by the rumors."[114][115]

See also


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