Military manpower chief says measures will close loopholes
The military conscription agency has been implementing or seeking to introduce a series of measures to block those looking to exploit legal loopholes to dodge their compulsory service, the agency chief said Wednesday.
They include toughening screening processes, securing an independent investigative authority, allowing elementary-school graduates to serve as public-service workers and conducting physical checkups on alleged dodgers multiple times, he said.
In a meeting with reporters, Kim Young-hoo, chief of the Military Manpower Administration, said those measures are in line with the government vision of establishing a “fair society.”
Public calls for toughening rules for military exemptions have persisted with a series of draft-dodging cases involving celebrities making headlines and exposing a series of loopholes in the country’s conscription system.
“We talk about a fair society often times, but some people believe that society, particularly in the area of military service, is not fair. We will change such a perception and make people proud of their military service,” said Kim.
Some 270,000 soldiers are conscripted each year to maintain the 650,000-strong military, mainly as deterrence against North Korea.
To toughen the screening processes, the administration will begin carrying out physical checkups on suspected dodgers multiple times as early as in November.
The related revision bill passed the National Assembly in April and the revision is expected to take effect in November after its promulgation later this month, officials said.
Under the current regulations, the administration cannot examine alleged dodgers until they are indicted on draft dodging charges. For instance, it could not carry out a checkup on a man who previously claimed to have extremely poor eyesight or a mental disorder, but passed a driving test, officials said.
The MMA is also seeking to secure an independent investigative authority to probe wrongdoings such as fabricating or falsifying medical records and intentionally damaging their bodies for military exemption, officials said.
The administration has already submitted a related bill to the parliament, which is pending at its judicial committee.
The MMA is also considering allowing those who only graduated from elementary school and could not make it to middle school, to serve as public-service workers instead of joining the armed services, according to Kim.
To protect the “socially vulnerable,” the government has exempted them from military service. But critics have said that there are some who are exempted even when they are fully capable of serving in the military.
The administration is also considering establishing a system under which athletes are granted military exemption after they earn certain points for good performances in international or domestic events that help enhance “national prestige,” Kim said.
Currently, athletes are given military exemption when they clinch third, second and first places in the Olympic Games and first place in the Asian Games. Critics have said that it is unfair as there are many other capable athletes who were just unlucky to garner medals.
The administration has already begun carrying out some measures.
It revised related regulations early last year to continue imposing military duty on men living in Korea until they become 35 years old and on overseas Koreans until they become 37 years old.
Previously, the age limits for entering military service were 30 and 35, respectively. Citing various reasons including overseas studies, many have attempted to delay their service until the limits to shirk their military duties.
According to the MMA, 176 people were caught attempting to dodge military service from 2005 to 2009. They have used surprisingly cunning methods to shirk military duty.
Of the total, 96 people were caught having had their shoulders dislocated intentionally. Seventy-five people, who have learned skills to intentionally raise their blood pressure by pressing certain parts of their bodies, were caught pretending to be suffering from hypertension.
Two were caught having falsified their medical records while three others were found to have pretended to have medical problems by submitting medical records of other patients.
Cha Myung-ho, psychology professor at Pyeongtaek University, underscored that it is crucial for people to have an accurate knowledge of the military to avoid having “fears based on exaggerated, inaccurate stories” about the military.
“People have fears that they would have to cut themselves from the rest of society during their service and learn a new code of conduct in an organization that they never experienced before,” he said.
“It would be wrong just to believe exaggerated, inaccurate stories about military life. Before joining the military, they should try to have a well-balanced, correct understanding of the military life.”
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)