Status of pets a constitutional matter in Korea

The top Korean court is reviewing pets' legal status and may grant greater legal protection for animals.


The Constitutional Court of Korea is reviewing a civil code article that designates animals as property. It is expected to reach a decision later this month. The code classifies animals as objects without any basic rights or interests granted to human beings. Care, an animal rights group, said this classification has led to unjust rulings in cases involving animal abuse and filed the case with the court last June. Since pets are considered property, their owners or people who commit violence against them only face fines of up to what the animals are worth on the market. ‘Due to the legal perception of animals as objects, past court verdicts of animal abuse only led people to face light punishment,’ Park So-youn, head of Care, told The Korea Times. ‘Instead of reviewing animal abuse cases as those between a perpetrator and victim, these are only seen as something between a human and an object.’ In 2015 case, a man killed his neighbour's ten-year-old dog with a metal pipe. He was indicted for "destroying his neighbor's property" and fined 2 million won ($1,800).

Constitutional matter

Care argues this legal definition of animals violates the Korean Constitution by encroaching on the people's basic right to pursue happiness, particularly pet owners. The number of pets in the country last year reached about 10 million, one-fifth of the human population, amid the rise in single-person households. Mr Park said: ‘We need to follow countries such as Germany and Switzerland to articulate animal rights in the Constitution and recognise animals, not as objects, but as third parties.’ There have been increasing efforts to legally recognise animal's rights, and last year, Justice Party Chairwoman Lee Jeong-mi proposed an amendment to the code, saying the current legal system imposes relatively weak punishment and compensation when considering the 'level of cruelty' seen in some animal abuse cases.

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