South Korea

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South Korea, a traditionally non-circumcising nation, nevertheless, adopted the practice of non-therapeutic circumcision during and after the Korean War (1950-53). The adoption of circumcision may be traced to 1950, when the United States intervened in the Korean War and large numbers of mostly circumcised American troops were sent into South Korea to aid in its defense.[1]

South Korean practice

Recent introduction

It is believed that circumcision had been used in South Korea prior to the arrival of American forces in 1945 to treat phimosis.[2] A 1971 study of men who were being examined for military service found that only five percent of the men were circumcised. These men must have been born just before or during the Korean War, but were not circumcised, so this indicates that the onset of non-therapeutic circumcision is of more recent vintage.[3]

Concept of "naturally circumcised"

Korean men have invented several reasons that they do not need a surgical circumcision, such as their foreskin is short, that it retracts when they have an erection, that it is not phimosed, or other reasons. This is called "naturally circumcised".[1]

Usual age for circumcision

Most Korean males are circumcised not in infancy but at puberty, as teenagers or in their 20s, so it is now viewed as a "rite of passage". Circumcision in infancy is rare in South Korea.[1] Ku et al. (2003) reported "a positive attitude toward circumcision in South Korean men, linking it with hygienic practices." They also reported the decision to circumcise was most often made by parents.[4] The most usual age for circumcision is about age 12.[5]

Prevalence of circumcision

Kim et al. carried out a survey of men in the Seoul area. They found that in the 16–25 year old age group 91 percent had been circumcised, with lesser percentages with increasing age groups.[1]

Results of large scale survey

Pang & Kim (2002) carried out a large scale survey of 5,434 males, aged 0–92, and 267 practicing physicians to learn more about the effects of male circumcision in South Korea. The authors observed that South Korea is the only nation in the region where non-therapeutic circumcision of boys is practiced.[6]

Incidence and prevalence

The incidence of circumcision was found to exceed 100 percent, since the number of older males being circumcised, exceeded the birth rate.[6]

The prevalence of circumcision was 93 percent in the 20-year-old age group and 60 percent over all ages.[6]


Of the 593 men who had had sex prior to their circumcision, 20 percent had a change in sexuality. Men were "twice as likely to have experienced diminished sexuality than improved sexuality."[6]

Reports from medical doctors

Of the doctors surveyed, 41 percent performed circumcisions. General surgeons and urologists were most likely to perform circumcisions. Unlike America, only 28 percent of obstetricians did circumcisions and no paediatricians performed circumcisions. Doctors generally were poorly informed about circumcision.[6]

Medical research

Kim & Pang (2007) studied the effect of the foreskin on masturbation. They reported that masturbatory pleasure decreased in 48% of the respondents and increased in 8%, while difficulty increased in 63% but was easier in 37%. They concluded that there was a decrease in masturbatory pleasure after circumcision.[7]

Declining rate of male circumcision reported

Kim et al. (2012) reported a new survey carried out in 2010-11 that found a sharp decline in the incidence of circumcision. The circumcision rate in the age 14–16 age group had declined over a decade from 88.4% to 56.4%. The circumcision rate in the 17–19 age group Had declined from 95.2% to 74.4%. The authors attributed the decline to the availability of better information on male non-therapeutic circumcision. The authors suggested that the practice of male circumcision is in steep decline in South Korea.[8]

Constitutional and human rights issues

Constitutional issues

The Constitution of the Republic of Korea (1948) as amended provides in Chapter Two the rights and duties of citizens.[9] Some provisions may be applicable to the practice of non-therapeutic circumcision of minors.

Article 10 provides:

All citizens shall be assured of human worth and dignity and have the right to pursuit of happiness. It shall be the duty of the State to confirm and guarantee the fundamental and inviolable human rights of individuals.[9]

Article 34 provides:

(1) All citizens shall be entitled to a life worthy of human beings.
(2) The State shall have the duty to endeavor to promote social security and welfare.
(3) The State shall endeavor to promote the welfare and rights of women.
(4) The State shall have the duty to implement policies for enhancing the welfare of senior citizens and the young.
(5) Citizens who are incapable of earning a livelihood due to a physical disability, disease, old age or other reasons shall be protected by the State under the conditions as prescribed by Act.
(6) The State shall endeavor to prevent disasters and to protect citizens from harm therefrom.[9]

Article 37 provides:

(1) Freedoms and rights of citizens shall not be neglected on the grounds that they are not enumerated in the Constitution.
(2) 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.[9]

There has been no attempt to apply these articles to the protection of boys' physical integrity.

Human rights issues

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in December 1966.[10] The Republic of Korea (South Korea) ratified this international human rights treaty in April 1990. Article 6(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea provides that treaties "duly concluded and promulgated under the Constitution and the generally recognized rules of international law shall have the same effect as the domestic laws of the Republic of Korea."[9][10]

Article 2(1) of the ICCPR provides:

1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The ICCPR provides such rights as freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security of person, and the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor, on the part of his family, society and the State.[11] South Korea has not protected the rights of boys as it has covenanted to do. If it had, any one of these enumerated rights would protect boys from non-therapeutic circumcision

See also


  1. a b c d REFjournal Kim DS, Lee JY, Pang MG. Male circumcision: a South Korean perspective. BJU Int. January 1999; 83 Suppl 1: 28-33. PMID. DOI. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  2. REFnews (9 February 2007)."The Whale Hunt", OHMY NEWS INTERNATIONAL. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  3. REFjournal Jung KM. A study on the foreskin and circumcision of the penis of Korean male. Korean J Public Health. 1971; 9: 369. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  4. REFjournal Ku JH, Kim ME, Lee NK, Park YH. Circumcision practice patterns in South Korea: community based survey. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 2003; 79(1): 65-7. PMID. PMC. DOI. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  5. REFnews McKinney, Merritt (21 January 2002)."Korean Circumcision Rising, in Emulation of West", Reuters Health. Retrieved 7 June 2021. "It is clear that most South Korean doctors believe in the strong correlation between economic prosperity, medical advance and circumcision."
  6. a b c d e REFjournal Pang MG, Kim DS. Extraordinarily high rates of male circumcision in South Korea: history and underlying causes. BJU Int. January 2002; 89(1): 48-54. PMID. Retrieved 7 May 2021.
  7. REFjournal Kim, DaiSik, Pang, Myung-Geol. The effect of male circumcision on sexuality. BJU Int. March 2007; 99(3): 619-622. PMID. DOI. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  8. REFjournal Kim, DaiSik, Koo, Sung-Ae Koo, Pang, Myung-Geol. Decline in male circumcision in South Korea. BMC Public Health. 11 December 2012; 12: 1067. PMID. DOI. Retrieved January 2012.
  9. a b c d e REFdocument Constitution of the Republic of Korea, Korea Translation Center. (1948). Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  10. a b Suk T. Lee, South Korea: Implementation and Application of Human Rights Covenants, 14 MICH.J. INT'LL. 705 (1993).
  11. REFdocument International Covenant on Civil and Political Right PDF, United Nations. (1966). Retrieved 4 November 2019.