NEWS AND COMMENT-SOUTH KOREA: My interpretation of the New York Post’s headline “South Korea to Grant Legal Status to Animals to Tackle Abuse, Abandonment” is that the South Korean government has decided to recognise animals as sentient beings rather than as objects. The intention is to help protect them from abuses. South Korea has a poor reputation on animal welfare despite good animal protection laws partly because of the dog meat industry which is catastrophically cruel.
The New York Post story tells of the owner of a five-year-old Pomeranian dog, Jin-hui, who was rescued in the nick of time after the dog’s owner had lost his temper and told his children to bury him/her alive (the name is unisex so I don’t know the animal’s gender). Kim Gea-yeung, 55, the manager of a shelter said that the owner was not punished as “the dog was recognised as an object owned by him”.
This is not unusual as even today in the West dogs and cats are regarded as “chattels” to use an old-fashioned term, which means possessions. This is why in legal cases dogs and cats have very low monetary value when seeking compensation. The emotional connection between human and animal is nearly always disregarded. However, the South Korean judge got it wrong as the law allows for quite tough punishment.
In South Korea animal abandonment has risen from around 90,000 cases in 2016 to more than 130,000 in 2020. The head of Career Animal Rights Advocates, Cheon Chin-kyung, said that: “Abuse, abandonment and neglect for pets have not improved in our society.”
The concept is that if you regard animals as more than property to be possessed by a person, they have an enhanced legal status which helps to protect them. It means that harsher punishments can be handed down to the perpetrators of animal cruelty, for instance. Judges will have more options. Harsher punishments should deter animal abuses.
South Korea does have decent animal welfare laws however. On conviction, a person can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison or fined the equivalent of US$25,494 (30m won). However, they believe that as animals are treated as objects the penalties are often much lower than the maximum.
Surprisingly, the Korea Pet Industry Retail Association are against the change. They say it will make it more difficult to adopt pets. That seems to be incomprehensible. Perhaps what they’re saying is that people who would have abused their pet will no longer adopt a pet dog because they can’t abuse the animal and get away with it! If that is their argument it is an incredibly poor one.
The change to the law is in the pipeline and not yet enacted.
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