Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Republic of Korea

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Republic of Korea, 2001, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 46,480,000
    – under-18s: 12,400,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 683,000
    – reserves: 4,500,000
    – paramilitary (active): 4,500
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 20
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): 20
  • Child soldiers: unknown
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 6 September 2000
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO 138
  • It is not known whether there are any under-18s in government armed forces due to conflicting information on recruitment age.


Although there is currently no armed conflict in the Republic of Korea, no peace treaty has been signed with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the two states technically remain at war. The demilitarised zone between North and South Korea is among the most heavily fortified in the world and the scene of sporadic incursions and skirmishes. A brief gun battle was fought in 1999 by South and North Korean navies for the first time since the Korean war. Contacts have increased in recent years culminating in a first summit of the two heads of state in 2000.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

According to Article 39 of the 1987 Constitution: "(1) all citizens shall have the duty of national defence as prescribed by law. (2) No citizen shall be treated unfavourably on account of the fulfilment of his obligation of military service."1047 The current legal basis for military service is the 1958 conscription law, Article 3 of which states that "men of Korean nationality must fulfil their military service obligation in a satisfactory manner. Women may also accomplish their active duty if they so desire."1048

In its Initial State Report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1994, the Government stated that "Korean men are liable for military service in the year of their eighteenth birthday, and must attain the age of at least 19 to be in active service during the year of acceptance. However, a person aged 17 or over who voluntarily applies for military service may be enlisted in the army, navy or air force."1049 More recently, in an official communication to the United Nations in Geneva dated 14 January 1998, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea cited 20 as the minimum age for conscription and 18 years as the minimum for voluntary recruitment.1050

Military service is believed to consist of 26 months in the Army, and 30 months in the Navy and Air Force.1051 However other sources have stated that military service lasts only 28 months in the Navy.1052 After military service, citizens belong to the reserve forces until the age of 50.1053

Three categories of professional personnel can be exempted from military service, namely research, technical and public health staff. However, they must fulfil six weeks of basic military training and then work in their respective fields for at least five years.1054 According to the initial report of the Republic of Korea to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, between 7,500 and 8,000 doctors who volunteered to work in urban and regional public health care services were exempted from military service.1055 A law was passed in May 1999, obliging high-ranking officials to make public whether they and their children had fulfilled compulsory military service. The law was passed after a spate of conscription scandals and allegations that only poor young men were being conscripted.1056

Military Training and Military Schools

There are several military schools in South Korea, such as the Korea military academy,1057 the Korea Third Military Academy,1058 the Korea Naval Academy,1059 and the Korea Air Force Academy. No information is available regarding entry requirements for these institutions.


International Standards

The Republic of Korea signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 6 September 2000.

1047 Blaustein and Flanz op. cit.

1048 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1049 Initial State Report of the Republic of Korea to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/8/Add. 21, 30/11/94, para. 33.

1050 Brett and McCallin op. cit.

1051 IISS, Military Balance, op. cit. 1997/98.

1052 "Military service records of government officials' sons to be made public", The Korea Herald, 26/5/99.

1053 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1054 Ibid.

1055 Report of the Republic of Korea to the Committee on the Rights of the Child op. cit.

1056 "Conscription-related allegations continue to be exposed", Korea Times, 12/6/98; "Draft scandal involves 133 Army officers, including seven Generals", Korea Herald, 23/6/98; "Military service records of government officials' sons be made public", Korea Herald, 26/5/99; "Every man's duty?", Korea Herald, 3/11/99.




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