A Third Legal Status for Animals

In early May 2005, Hae-tal became a member of Hansun Seo’s family. However, in the late evening of February 21st 2015, Hae-tal was savagely beaten by a neighbor for no discernible reason. He died shortly after.

He had been a big part of the family over 10 years, and when he was taken from it, the family suffered with their grief. Mrs. Seo’s daughter, who was 15 years old at the time, suffered an eating disorder for a month. Now 18, she still keeps pictures of Hae-tal on her phone, and memories in her heart. Mrs. Seo was diagnosed with depression.

The assailant was at first acquitted due to insufficient evidence. However, people raised strong objections to this decision and eventually he was fined 2 million won.

Companion animals are a big part families into which they are welcomed. The fine with which the assailant was sentenced was wholly inadequate when compared to the distress and suffering the family underwent after his death. This is because the current law in South Korea still regards animals as property.

Animals have emotion, can think and feel, and can feel pain. This is why abusing, torturing and causing suffering to animals should be taken much more seriously than merely damaging property.

The current South Korean laws which define animals as property are resulting in a serious gap between the law and reality.

Switzerland recognized that animals are not just property but lives to be protected with a constitutional provision in 1992, the first country to do so. Austria enacted a tough Animal Welfare Act in 2004 which recognized some equivalence between human and animal sentience. They specified that animals are between humans and property, and are consequently granted a third legal status, being considered beings instead of things. Germany codified the duty of the country to protect animals in their 2002 constitution. It now states that animals have the right to be respected by the state and to have their dignity protected. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States now considers animal abuse as a major social crime, and are building a database of animal cruelty crimes and abusers. This demonstrates that they accept that people who treat animals cruelly are more likely to abuse people, too. Taiwan also makes the names and faces of animal abusers public, as well as levying a fine.

Culture changes over time and exposure to other cultures, and perceptions change as culture changes. Koreans no longer consider animals as property. Now it’s time to change the laws and regulations to bring them in line with the changes of perception in Korean culture.

We will continue to push for revisions to civil laws and file constitutional appeals until all animals are no longer classified as property in South Korea.

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