SEOUL — More than 9,000 South Korean men have slipped out of their compulsory military service because they or their families claimed overseas residency, officials said Friday.
And because nearly 80 percent of those young men are from Seoul, or from wealthy families, the disclosure is being touted as another reason South Koreans say their military service system doesn’t work.
Under Korean law, all able-bodied men must serve at least 26 months in the military before they turn 30. It’s a rite of passage as well as a way to keep up strength in the 650,000-man military.
But increasingly, young people are looking for ways to avoid service.
Defense Ministry officials and South Korean lawmaker Park Yang-soo decried the immigration practices as “dubious and unlawful,” saying the moves were robbing the country of thousands of perfectly able soldiers each year.
This week, the Defense Ministry announced several measures intended to prevent “further defection” of men from their military service. Among those measures are attempts to go after travel services that encourage illegal immigration, officials said.
Officials also said they would target Internet sites that encourage people to skip the military and offer tips on how to do so.
“Offensive Internet sites against the military are demoralizing the nation’s servicemen and encouraging our young men to avoid their military service in any way possible,” a Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters Thursday.
Therefore, officials already have filed complaints against 16 Internet sites allegedly working against the military induction system.
The Korean Broadcasting Commission is also getting into the act, saying it will take actions against any of the nation’s ubiquitous television shopping channels that advertise certain immigration packages.
One channel aired an ad that bore a subtitle reading, “Emigration does away with military duty.”
Some South Korean men have even resorted to getting full-back tattoos in order to be ruled ineligible for military service. Conscription rules say that large tattoos make young men ineligible for service because the tattoos cause “abomination among fellow soldiers.”
Earlier this year, South Korean police rounded up nearly 200 men and charged them with “willfully tampering with their bodies to avoid military duty.”
Part of the reason some want to avoid serving is the assaults and abuses reported in military barracks; this week, though, government statistics showed those incidences were declining. There is also the issue of pay: The average sergeant in the South Korean army makes only about $27 per month.