South Korea set to scrap ‘Korean age’ system

KoreanAgeFI
Image: KBS World TV
  • During a press conference on Monday, South Korean President-Elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee announced that the administration would amend laws to switch the country to the international age system.
  • South Korea remains one of the only countries to use “age reckoning,” in which a person’s age is measured starting from conception rather than birth. This means a person is born 1 year old and becomes a year older every Lunar New Year.
  • The practice originates from China, based on the idea that life starts well before birth.
  • There have been two previous attempts – one in 2019 and another in 2021 – by South Korean lawmakers to make the change.

South Korean President-Elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee announced on Monday during a press conference that the administration would amend laws to switch the country to the international age system.

South Korea remains one of the only countries to use “age reckoning” as a means of measuring a person’s age. The traditional East Asian practice, in which a person’s age starts from conception rather than birth, calculates age by year rather than by date. According to this method, a person is born 1 year old at birth and becomes a year older every Lunar New Year.

The practice originates from China, based on the idea that life starts well before birth, and is considered largely outdated in other parts of the world. Japan switched to the international age system in the 1950s, citing confusion as the main reason for the ban.

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There have been two previous attempts by South Korean lawmakers to make the change – one in 2019 and another in 2021 – under President Moon Jae-in’s time in office.The proposed legislation would have required that the international counting system be used on all official documents and encouraged for everyday use.

Representative Lee Yong-ho of Yoon’s People Power Party and a member of the transition committee stated during a press conference that he did not “expect any kind of pushback” this time from Korea’s National Assembly because President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party of Korea currently holds the Assembly majority and were the original proposers of the law.

Further, Yoon’s committee will not attempt to introduce a new bill, as Moon’s officials had previously done. Instead, Yoon’s party will simply propose an amendment to the existing age law.

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If the proposal to switch to the international age system does succeed, it would alleviate many confusions. In January, for example, when the COVID vaccine became available for children 12 years old and older, it was unclear whether children, technically over 12 years of age in South Korea, qualified for the vaccine, as the eligibility of 12 years and older was based on the international age system.

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