The Justice Ministry’s special committee seeking to revise the criminal code recently held a general meeting and agreed to drop a provision on parricides from the criminal code section on murders and plans to draft a revision. The provision had enabled stronger punishment for the crime of parricide (the act of murdering lineal ascendants of oneself or spouse including parents and parents-in-law) compared to other murders. The elimination of the clause is causing a dispute on dealing with depraved crimes versus equality.

Under existing Korean law, parricides are more heavily punished. The provision supporting this heavier penalty existed from the time the criminal code was first legislated in 1953, but calls against its constitutionality have been raised consistently. Parricides were initially punished either by the death penalty or life imprisonment despite extenuating circumstances such as parents’ abuse. Critics have called the penalty too severe. The criticism was acknowledged during the 1995 criminal revision. In the revision, fines were introduced for crimes of injury or violence on one’s parents in a bid to lower sentences. Parricides from this time on could also be sentenced to a minimum seven years in prison.

Removal of Provision
The heavier punishment for parricides was criticized as a type of discrimination. For the same reason, the heavier penalty for inflicting injury or violence on parents will also be scrapped. Foreign precedents on this issue differ by country. Nations governed by American and British law from the very beginning never sentenced additional punishment for parricides, while a stronger penalty is slapped on the murders of not only parents, but children and spouses in countries like Italy and Argentina. Similar provisions in support of a heavier penalty in these cases existed in Germany and Hungary but were scrapped. Japan has the most similar criminal code with South Korea out of any country. Japan’s top court ruled the provision as unconstitutional in 1973 after which it was abolished in 1995. Korea’s Constitutional Court in 2002 ruled the clauses in question as constitutional in a unanimous vote saying, “Crimes against one’s parents are crimes against humanity and the depravity deserves social condemnation. In consideration of the traditional Korean moral code, a stricter punishment is yet considered reasonable.”

[ Dispute ]
For elimination of clause Against elimination of clause
General Humans have the right to bear children but not the right to be born. Additional punishment for parricides is a kind of discrimination against social status. The act of parricide is a deplorable crime undermining Korean morality. Parents can’t be compared to any other person. Parricide differs from other crimes.
Constitutionality The provision violates equal rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Posterity cannot be considered a social status. Stronger punishment thus does not violate equal rights.
Punishment of depraved crimes Regular murders can be sternly punished through capital punishment or life in prison. A separate provision on parricides is not necessary. Stricter punishment is possible in the sentencing. But the existence of such a clause serves a preventive, educational purpose.
Fairness Parents murdering their children are not punished in stronger terms. Parents and children cannot be considered the same. Based on Korean morals, this is not unfair.

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