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Govt likely to require 36 months of alternative service for conscientious objectors

The government is likely to require 36 months of service in correctional facilities as an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors, a local media outlet reported following rancorous debates over the matter.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, the Ministry of National Defense intends to announce the government’s plan Dec. 13 during a meeting with civilian experts.

The Defense Ministry has considered two options for the alternative service program: 36 months in correctional facilities or 27 months in either correctional facilities or fire stations, depending on the individual’s choice. 

“The alternative service plan is likely to come down to a 36-month term of service in correctional facilities,” said an anonymous defense official.  

Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo. Yonhap
Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo. Yonhap

Speculation is rampant that the government preferred to require conscientious objectors to serve at correctional facilities for 36 months, supporting prison guards and taking part in programs to rehabilitate prisoners.

The government is expected to finalize its plan on the alternative form of service by the end of this year. If this happens, the plan will be submitted to the National Assembly for parliamentary approval next year.

Every able-bodied Korean man between 18 and 28 is required to serve at least 21 months in the military. The Military Service Act calls for up to three years in prison for those who refuse to serve, although most are sentenced to 18 months and released on parole after 14 months.

Since Nov. 1, when the Supreme Court ruled that sincerely held beliefs are a valid reason for refusing to perform military service, the government has sought to determine the ideal length for an alternative service term.

In June, the Constitutional Court ordered the government to introduce civilian forms of service for conscientious objectors. The court ruled that the Military Service Act was unconstitutional and demanded that the government and lawmakers amend the law by the end of next year.