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[Newsmaker] High school dropouts no longer exempt from active duty

Army conscripts sing a marching song at a basic training graduation ceremony in Gwangju, Jan. 8, 2020. (Yonhap)
Army conscripts sing a marching song at a basic training graduation ceremony in Gwangju, Jan. 8, 2020. (Yonhap)
High school dropouts will no longer be exempt from mandatory active duty from next year, South Korea’s Military Manpower Administration said Wednesday. All able-bodied men here aged between 18 and 30 must serve active duty for 18 to 21 months.

Currently, those who do not graduate from high school must complete alternative service. Unlike soldiers on active duty, participants in the program do not live together or take part in training at military bases. Instead they work as delegates to designated public facilities to relieve the staff’s workload.

The alternative program has faced criticism from people who say it is unfair to the majority of conscripts, whose duties are more demanding.

High school dropouts can volunteer for regular enlistment if they pass the routine physical fitness test, but only 1 out of 10 did so, according to the government data compiled between 2016 and June 2020.

The falling number of new conscripts, prompted by the low birth rate, and the rising number of alternative service participants are also considered to have pushed the conscription agency to make the latest change.

“We believe we’ve addressed the concern over fair and equitable treatment,” the agency said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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