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A Household Head System Straight Out of History

Posted February. 03, 2005 23:09,   


“Household Head System” is a policy where the male head representing the family has superior rights in property treatment or a family member’s marriage. Civil law stipulates a household head system by defining the household head and family as “a person who inherited the family’s tradition” or “a person who has same census register as the head of a household.”

The census register, a book of every individual citizen’s status relations, existed even before the modern age. However, the current household head and family system appeared after census register reform in the Japanese colonial era of 1915. Japanese Meiji civil law’s “Household Head System,” a family system constructed around a strong household head, was introduced then.

According to civil law, the Household Register System emphasises vertical family relationships and male-oriented household head inheritance customs, which bring endless abolition demands from females.

The order of inheritance in a head-oriented household system was son of head, grandson of head, unmarried daughter of head, spouse of head, mother, and then daughter in law. Therefore, in the cases of families with daughters only, sons in law registered to his wife’s family register, or grandsons, inherit the family line. If not, the family line was abolished.

Following this, sons are preferred in this ideology while daughters are aborted, raising endless human rights issues and causing sex ratio inequality.

Furthermore, it rationalised male superiority as the thought that wives become a member of their husband’s family and so that they should obey their husbands under their protection.

Husbands could register children born from different women other than their wives without their wives’ opinion, and children whose parents remarried experienced pain in everyday life as their family name differed from their new father’s.

Voices shouting for the abolition of this system continued for some time. However, they were drowned out by strong opposition from supporters of Confucianism. The Chinese medical doctor Go Eun Gwhang-soon, who realised the seriousness of female abortion, led a 1998 citizen group for the system’s abolition. Two years later, it developed into a citizens’ solidarity network with 113 groups.

In the same year, a group preparing a lawsuit declaring the household head system unconstitutional was formed and recruited an unconstitutionality suit accusation group. On April 4 of the next year, a lawsuit was filed in constitutional court and received a constitutionally incongruent decision. Therefore, Household Head System will disappear into history 90 years after its official introduction.

Jin-Kyeong Kim kjk9@donga.com