January 31, 2008 / 6:59 AM / 9 years ago

Celebrity tryst may change Korean adultery law

3 Min Read

SEOUL (Reuters) - A sensational love affair involving a South Korean starlet, her TV personality husband and her opera singer lover could lead the country to change laws that can send adulterers to jail.

The lawyer for actress Ok So-ri brought a petition to the Constitutional Court this week asking it to overturn the current law that can land a person in jail for up to two years for having an extramarital affair.

"The adultery law ... has degenerated into a means of revenge by the spouse, rather than a means of saving a marriage," the petition said.

Ok and her husband Park Chul have been staples of the local gossip sheets for months with both holding news conferences where they exposed embarrassing details of a troubled marriage. Ok has admitted to the affair.

Park filed a criminal adultery complaint against his wife and she was indicted in January on suspicion of illegally having an affair with the opera singer.

South Korea passed the adultery law in 1953 to protect women.

In its male-dominated society, women had little recourse against a husband who had an affair. Back then if a wife walked out of a marriage, she would often end up alone and penniless.

Today, it is rare for people to be jailed but that has not stopped several thousand angry spouses from filing criminal complaints each year.

Critics say the law is anachronistic, with some saying a better compromise might be to allow spouses just to sue for compensation in civil court.

"The situation is different now with the elevation of women's status in society. It is an act of betrayal but it shouldn't be considered a sexual crime," said Lee Hye-kyung of the Minwoo women's rights group.

The number of divorces in South Korea has almost doubled since 1995. In 2005, about 128,500 couples divorced in the country of almost 49 million people.

Although women still face difficulty finding high-paying jobs or achieving wage parity with men, more women have been able to enter the labor force over the past decade and live independently on their wages.

Referring to the current divorce law, the petition said: "There has been no evidence of its contribution to protecting women, and its validity is questionable with the elevation of women's social and economic status."

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Roger Crabb

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