The Defense Ministry is studying a proposal to allow young North Korean defectors here do military service, officials said on Monday.
About 3,600 North Koreans under the age of 20 have come to South Korea since the early 1990s, according to the Ministry of Unification’s data.
Citing unnamed high-level military officials, a local newspaper reported the ministry is considering revising related laws to allow North Koreans in the eligible age groups join the armed forces.
The order came from Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin as part of Seoul’s efforts to promote a “multicultural” military and help North Korean defectors adjust to South Korea.
The Defense Ministry, however, said that the issue came up in a discussion handling diverse issues and that it remains an “idea.”
“It was included in a number of ideas raised at a general discussion, and as yet there are no orders received. It remains at the level of being an idea,” a Ministry of Defense official said.
Under the current Military Service Act, North Korean defectors’ children born in the South are able to join the military but those who defected after being born north of the military demarcation line are exempt from national service.
“At present people who have moved from north of the military demarcation line are exempt from military service, and there appears to have been an order to reassess the situation,” a Military Manpower Administration official said.
“For now, however, no working-level projects are underway at the Military Manpower Administration, and the issue is likely being approached from a policy aspect at the Ministry of Defense.”
South Korea’s military has made changes aimed at becoming more open to people of non-Korean descent in recent years.
In January last year, individuals who are visibly mixed-race such as those who have non-Asian ancestry were allowed to join the ranks, and the word “race” was replaced with “citizen” in the oaths taken by recruits and newly commissioned officers.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)