Annual Review 2016: Human Rights Situation of LGBTI in South Korea

13. Legal Gender Recognition

updated 2017.08.09 11:53 by sogilaw

Colloquium held celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the first legal gender recognition decision of the Supreme Court

On November 29, 2016, the Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGILAW) held the 5th SOGI Colloquium “10 years on since the first legal gender recognition of transgender people - significance and future challenges” at the Gwanghwamun Lawyer’s Center Jo Young-rae Hall. In 2006, the Supreme Court issued the first ruling[1] permitting the legal gender recognition of a transgender person. This was a milestone in transgender rights as it made possible the legal gender recognition after fulfilling certain basic requirements. On the other hand, the Supreme Court had been criticized for demanding excessively strict requirements in legal gender recognition, such as sterilization and gender reassignment surgery. The purpose of the Colloquium was to, in commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, discuss the significance and shortcomings of the decision and identify future challenges in legal gender recognition. Judge Ha Jung-hoon of the Gunsan Branch of the Jeonju District Court, Dr. Lee Seunghyun of the Yonsei University Institute for Legal Studies, and Attorney Han Ga-ram of the Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights “Hope and Law” each delivered a presentation at the Colloquium.[2]

Judge Ha Jung-hoon provided an analysis on the changes and current trends regarding existing legal gender recognition decisions, and pointed out the need for the judiciary’s progressive interpretation of the law with a view to protecting the rights of transgender people. Dr. Lee Seung-hyun presented an analysis on the problems of the current legal gender recognition requirements by comparing domestic and overseas legislation and decisions. Lee added that it is necessary to have more in-depth and varied discussions with regard to laws and policies. Attorney Ga-ram Han pointed out the problems with excessive correction orders and delays in authorization, and proposed training for judges, developing statistics on legal gender recognition, etc. as measures for improvement.[3]

Through a public statement on June 22, 2016, the Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) criticized the excessively strict requirements for legal gender recognition and occurrence of human rights violations in the authorization process. In addition, Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity proposed the amendment of gender recognition requirements and procedures in line with international human rights standards and consideration of the opinions of persons concerned.[4]

Complaint filed to NHRCK for dichotomous sex indication in resident registration number as discrimination and human rights violation

On January 27, 2016, a complaint was filed to the NHRCK for discrimination and human rights violation regarding the seventh digit of the resident registration number, which indicates the sex of the individual; 1 for men, and 2 for women. On December 23, 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled the resident registration number system to be “incompatible with constitution” for it does not permit the change of number,[5] and recommended legislative improvement by December 31, 2017. Accordingly, the government began preparations for a revised bill but with the current numbering system, including sex indication, while changing only the last two digits of the resident registration number. In response, human rights organizations including the Minority Rights Committee of MINBYUN, Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination, and Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet held a press conference in front of the NHRCK on the 27th to point out the problems with the resident registration number, such as the sex indication numbers, and submitted a complaint.[6] The complainants argued that the resident registration number promotes sexual stereotypes by assigning later number to females after males, violates self-determination to personal information, infringes upon the rights of transgender people whose gender identity is different from their legal gender, and fails to take into account intersex people.[7] Among the complainants, there was a transgender woman who was assigned a man at birth but currently living as a woman.

The complainants said it was necessary to “delete the sex indicators from the resident registration number and introduce a random number in its place”. However, in the last plenary session of the 19th General Assembly on May 19, 2016, the revised bill of the Resident Registration Act was passed, which leaves in place the current system such as date of birth and sex indication, while allowing the modification of the last digit of the resident registration number. A revised bill of the Resident Registration Act (proposed by MP Jin Sun-mi of the Democratic Party)[8] that would replace the sex indication number with a random number is pending in the 20th National Assembly.



[1] Supreme Court of Korea en banc decision 2004Seu42, 6/22/2006
[2] “Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity hosts discussion commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the decision on ‘legal gender recognition of transgender people’”, Law Issue, 11/10/2016
[3] Jung-hoon Ha, et al., “[Sourcebook] 5th SOGI Colloquium: 10 Years On Since the First Legal Gender Recognition of Transgender People - Significance and Future Challenges”, Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 11/19/2016
[4] “10 Years On Since the First Legal Gender Recognition of Transgender People, still ‘a long way to go’”, BeMinor, 6/23/2016
[5] Constitutional Court of Korea decision 2013Hun-Ba68, 2014Hun-Ma449 (Merged), 23/12/2015
[6] “Dichotomous sex indication in resident registration number, violates the human rights of transgender people, etc”., Mediaus, 1/27/2016
[7] “Discrimination complaint filed to National Human Rights Commission on sex indicator in resident registration number”, Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet website, 1/27/2016 (Retrieved on 3/14/2017) http://act.jinbo.net/wp/9228/
[8] Revised Bill of the Resident Registration Actt (Bill No. 2001753), Bill Information system, 8/22/2016