Law and Society in Korea

Law and Society in Korea

Elgar Korean Law series

Edited by Hyunah Yang

The contributors examine societal and historical conditions that are reflected in – or that were shaped by – the law, through a variety of lenses; including law and development, law and politics, colonialism and gender, past wrongdoings, public interest lawyering, and judicial reform. In dismantling the historical specificity of the way in which Korea studies are universally framed, the contributions provide novel views, theories and information about South Korean law and society.

Chapter 3: Colonialism and patriarchy: where the Korean family-head (hoju) system had been located

Hyunah Yang

Subjects: asian studies, asian law, law - academic, asian law


In February 2005, after almost five years of scrutiny, the Korean Constitutional Court found that the central articles in the ‘Family-head and Family’ section of the Civil Act of Korea were incongruent with the Korean Constitution. According to the decision, this section was particularly incompatible with article (hereafter, art) 11, paragraph (hereafter, para) 1 of the Constitution on the basic rights of equality under the law, art 10 on the protection of human dignity and art 36, para 1 on the protection of human dignity and gender equality in the marriage and family life.2 This decision was tantamount to a declaration that the family-head system per se was unconstitutional. Exactly one month later, the National Assembly passed an alternative Bill for the Civil Act that abolished the family-head system; this came into effect on 1 January 2008.3 Although the family-head system has now been removed from the law, this chapter will give a critical review of the system from the standpoints of sociology, legal history and feminist legal studies. The family-head system was a family institution stipulated in Books 4 and 5 of the Civil Act. The system regulated virtually every legal relation within a family by legally designating a ‘family head’ (__ ; hoju), usually an adult male, as well as the family members who would be represented by this family head. With this simple configuration, the institution exerted strong and complex effects on the family in Korea:

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