The family registration system (hoju); who has access to the system and whether or not individuals can access information on other families [KOR101978.E]

On 2 March 2005 the Korean National Assembly abolished the hoju system, or Family Registration System (Korea 2 Mar. 2005; UN Jan - Mar. 2005, 6; KWAU 7 Mar. 2005). A new system of registration is expected to take effect as of 1 January 2008 (ibid.; Women's News n.d.). Until that time, the hoju system will reportedly remain in effect (ibid.).

The hoju system - which has been called "outdated" (Korea 2 Mar. 2005) and "patriarchal" (UN Jan. - Mar. 2005, 6) - requires a male to be the household head (Korea Times 30 Dec. 2004; Korea 2 Mar. 2005; UN Jan.- Mar. 2005, 6), with only a few exceptions (ibid.). Information could not be found as to the precise nature of these exceptions among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Under the hoju system, once a woman marries she is taken from the register of her father and added to the register of her husband (Korea Times 30 Dec. 2004; Time Asia 29 Mar. 2004). The signature of the male household head is required for the paperwork that is a part of day-to-day life including, for example, applying for children's passports (ibid.). If a woman is divorced, she still needs to obtain the signature of her ex-husband in order to apply for passports for her children - unless he gives up all paternal rights (ibid.). Moreover, under the hoju system, an infant boy could be named household head (KWAU 11 Mar. 2005; UN Jan. - Mar. 2005, 6-7) and be given more rights with respect to family affairs than his mother or grandmother (ibid.).

The Vice-President of MINBYUN - Lawyers for a Democratic Society has written that the hoju system has been used, along with the residence registration system, "by successive governments to monitor Korean citizens" (Korea Focus Nov. - Dec. 2001). MINBYUN - Lawyers for a Democratic Society is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to contribute to the development of democracy in South Korea through litigation, research and investigation (MINBYUN n.d.).

In terms of who can access the hoju system, a designated immigration officer at the Canadian Embassy in Korea made the following comment in correspondence with the Research Directorate:

Any one listed in his/her own family census register can report the addition (marriage, birth, and divorce) and deletion (death) of family members in his/her register. Currently, the details of the register can be obtained by any family members or any third party who can provide the issuance office with the place of registration and Korean ID number of the pertinent family member and name of the head of family by presenting his/her own ID card (mostly, Korean ID card, driver's license, or passport). (Canada 15 Dec. 2006)

In an address commenting on the abolishment of the hoju system, the Chairperson of the Women's Affairs Committee said, "ending the hoju system has laid the legal groundwork for securing individual dignity and equality within family relationships" (Korea 2 Mar. 2005). "At the same time," she also said, "we need to adopt an alternative family registry system in which gender equality and individual human rights, as well as privacy, can be guaranteed" (ibid.).

Moreover, an article by a representative of the Korean Women's Associations United (KWAU) noted that the new system:

should be based on sound principals of equality, human dignity, and the protection of the individual's privacy. As such, the Ministry of Justice's plans, which call for more information on individuals to be included in the new registry than the current system, is indeed cause for concern. (KWAU 11 Mar. 2006).

The same source states that the proposed new system would make "an excessive amount" of personal information available, including, "birthplaces of a person and his parents, which have been a source of discrimination in Korea, as well as the vital statistics of siblings, spouses, and parents" (ibid.).

The new system will reportedly ensure that an infant could no longer become the household head and that a child could take on the family name of her or his mother (if both parents agree) or step-father (if the mother remarries) (KWAU 11 Mar. 2005; ibid. 7 Mar. 2005).

Further information on who would have access to the new registration system could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. Moreover, the Designated Immigration Officer stated in correspondence that the question of who would be able to access the new system "has not been finalized yet as the new system (Status Registration Law) is still under review by the National Assembly" (Canada 15 Dec. 2006).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Canada. 15 December 2006. Embassy of Canada, Seoul Korea. Correspondence received from a designated immigration officer.

JoongAng Daily National. 29 December 2005. "2005 Top 10 News." [Accessed 10 Nov. 2006]

Korea. 2 March 2005. "Issue Spotlight: Address by Chairperson of Women's Affairs Committee Celebrating the Abolition of Hoju System." [Accessed 10 Nov. 2006]

Korea Focus [Seoul]. November - December 2001. Lee Suk Tae. "Problems with Korea's Family 'Headship' System." (Korea Foundation Web site) [Accessed 1 Nov. 2006]

The Korea Times [Seoul]. 30 December 2004. Chung Ah-young. "New Family Registry System to Change Male-Dominant Society." [Accessed 2 Nov. 2006]

Korea Women's Associations United (KWAU). 7 March 2005. "Women Welcome Repeal of Hojujue." Women 21: KWUA News Magazine. [Accessed 2 Nov. 2006]

_____. 11 March 2005. "Time for People to Discard the Family Headship System." Women 21: KWUA News Magazine. [Accessed 2 Nov. 2006]

MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society. N.d. "About Minbyun." [Accessed 28 Nov. 2006]

Time Asia [Hong Kong]. 29 March 2004. "Getting Out." [Accessed 1 Nov. 2006]

United Nations. January, Febuary, March 2005. Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI). Vol. 9, No 1. Network. The UN Women's Newsletter. [Accessed 1 Nov. 2006]

The Women's News [Seoul]. N.d. "Hoju System Becomes History." [Accessed 1 Nov. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: professors with relevant specializations from Central Washington University and the University of British Colombia, as well as the Korean Women's Development Institute, and Korean Women's Studies Institute did not provide information within the time constraints of this response.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Freedom House, Isis, The New York Times, Taipei Times.