The Special Task Force for the Abolishment of the Hoju System (Task Force) headed by the Vice-Minister of Gender Equality held its first general meeting and division meetings on May 16 at the Central Government Complex in Sejong-no. This signals the official launching of the Special Task Force made up of members from the Justice Ministry, Gender Equality Ministry, Korea Information Service and women groups that Minister of Gender Equality Ji Eun-hee reported at the National Affairs Meeting on May 6.
The Task Force meeting dealt with in detail issues such as the timing of legislation, the modus operandi of the Task Force, and whether to revise the Family Register Act along with the abolishment of the Hoju system.
During the meeting, the officer from the Justice Ministry, which had so far shown a lukewarm attitude towards the abolishment of the Hoju system, revealed, "The Justice Ministry has been planning all along to revise any gender-discriminatory laws. But we will place top priority on the bill to revise the Hoju system in the nearest possible future." The officer's remarks have increased the chances for the Hoju system to be abolished within the year. Particularly encouraging is the fact that the Justice Ministry has promised to review all recommendations, including the elimination of the clause enforcing patrilineal bloodlines, something that the Justice Ministry had opposed in the past.
Officials from the Ministry of Legislation explained the practical issues that need to be taken into consideration in scheduling the task force's work, saying, "Even if the Justice Ministry comes up with the revision bill, it takes at least 45 days for the bill to be submitted to the National Assembly and discussed at the Ministry of Legislation and relevant Ministerial and Vice-Ministerial meetings. According to the revised National Assembly Act, the regular National Assembly session in September will only deal with budget reviews, meaning it would be physically near impossible for the Hoju system bill to be passed at the extraordinary session in June." That is why the task force foresees that December will be the most realistic deadline.
Also discussed at the Task Force meeting was the timing for the revision of the Civil Code to reflect the abolishment of the Hoju system and the revision of the Family Register Act to contain the reformed family registration system. The strategy so far has been to separate the two: getting the Civil Code revision bill passed first and then following up with an alternative family registration system. At the Task Force meeting, however, government officials suggested that public consensus allowing, it would be possible to carry out both agendas as the same time, implying that the abolishment of the Hoju system and the revision of the Family Register Act could be accomplished earlier than expected.
The composition and operation of the Task Force was also up for discussion. The Task Force is made up of the Overall Planning, Legislation, Public Relations and Citizen Participation Divisions, and members from the women and civic groups are all placed in the Citizen Participation Division. Secretary-General Nam Yoon In-sun of the Korea Women's Association United reported, "During the Citizen Participation division meeting held after the general meeting, we agreed that civic groups belonging to the Citizen Participation division should be allowed to take part in the working-level meetings of the other divisions. We made a proposal along these lines to the Ministry of Gender Equality." If the opinion of civic groups are to be reflected in the actual process of abolishing the Hoju system, they have to be allowed to participate in the working-level meetings of the other divisions.
The Task Force plans to hold bimonthly general and division meetings, with more frequent division meetings depending on the agenda at hand.
Reference: What is the Hoju system? (refer also to the terminology list on our website)
When a child is born, he or she takes on the surname and family origin of the father (Civil Code Article 781), and upon marriage, the daughter is no longer considered a family member as her name is entered into her husband's family registrar (Civil Code Article 826.3). And when a wife wishes to register her child who is not related by blood to the patrilineal side of the family, she must have the permission of the child's Hoju (family head) and biological father (Civil Code Article 784). In contrast, a man can always register his child born out of wedlock on the family registrar (Civil Code Article 782), favoring father's rights over the mother's. Even if a divorced woman holds parental and custody rights to her children, the children continue to remain in her ex-husband's family registrar, and her relationship with her children is merely defined as "residing together" under the resident registration.
More and more women are getting divorced or re-marrying these days, but the current Hojusystem does not allow such women to transfer their children's registration from their ex-husbands' to their own or their current husbands'. They are prevented from doing so by the invisible hand of the patrilineal Hoju system and Family Register Act. The Hoju system has been supported and reinforced by the family registrar system, which has been the official documentation of every citizen's social status. These two mutually-supplementary systems have formed an invisible net over the entire society, keeping it vertical, authoritarian and male-centered.
The Hoju system, which makes one person the head (Hoju) of the family unit and vests in him certain rights and duties, is a symbol of a vertical power structure where the Hojudominates and leads the family members under him. As the Hoju title is passed on to the eldest male in the next generation, it also strongly implies male chauvinism and contempt against women. Therefore, the unrealistic structure of the system and the extent of theHoju's rights aside, the system is in itself an embodiment of a vertical and male-chauvinistic mentality that regards women as second-class citizens. It runs counter to the dignity and right to equality of each individual guaranteed in the Constitution.
-extract from "Reasons for the Abolishment of the Hoju System," 499th edition of The Women's News, written by Lee Hwa-sook (Professor of Law, Kyungwon University)