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I Am a Female Public Prosecutor in Korea

Posted February. 22, 2005 22:53,   


“Women power” is strong among public prosecutors. Of 95 newly appointed women public prosecutors on February 14, 36 are women, the largest number ever, taking up 38 percent of the total. Overall, the number of female public prosecutors is 139, or nine percent of 1,554. Some people even say “a new era of women public prosecutors” is opening up.

Difficulties for women public prosecutors-

Until now, the occupation of a public prosecutor has been regarded only for men: first, one’s “combat power” is regarded as the top priority; second, a massive amount of work, so much that one cannot go home before midnight on average; inconveniences such as one having to move all around the nation; and Korea’s typical drinking culture that makes one drink strong cocktails. Plus, due to the Confucian tradition of respecting men and disregarding women, it was true that either suspects or investigators never succumbed to the authority of women public prosecutors.

Lee Ok (aged 41, who passed the 31st Bar Exam) is the second public prosecutor, who started working in the Northern Branch of Seoul District Public Prosecutors` Office in 1992. She is now the head public prosecutor in the Chun-Cheon District Public Prosecutors’ Office. She said, “Now what counts is my performance, but at the time when I was appointed, women public prosecutors were regarded uncomfortably.” Prosecutor Lee also said, “However, as I am a woman, I can investigate more delicately, and consider others in a more humane way.” She added, “In particular, in cases where women public prosecutors are in charge, there are fewer complaints from suspects.”

Pioneers for “women power”-

Since the foundation of the Prosecutors’ Office in 1948, it was as late as 1982 when the first women lawyers, Cho Bae-sook (aged 48), and Lim Suk-kyung (aged 52), both passing the 22nd Bar Exam, were appointed as public prosecutors after five and six years, respectively. As such, the overall atmosphere of not encouraging women to be public prosecutors continued until the early 1990s. However, over time, things changed, and as the number of women successful in the bar exam increased, the number of prospects for public prosecutors increased to a great extent.

More noteworthy is that together with an increasing number of women public prosecutors, their working areas expanded to include public security and special task forces, which had been regarded as something reserved for men only. Public prosecutor Seo In-sun (aged 30, passing 41st Bar Exam) was appointed to the security department in the Seoul District Public Prosecutors` Office in 2003. And Lee Ji-won (aged 41, passing 39th Bar Exam) got a position in the special task force in the same Public Prosecutors’ Office in August 2004. In June 2004, for the first time, a female head was appointed (Cho Hee-jin, aged 43, passing 29th Bar Exam).

What are women public prosecutors?-

According to recently released statistics from the Ministry of Justice, as of the end of 2004, there were 103 women public prosecutors currently working, except for the 36 newly appointed. In terms of working years, the highest number was in the category of “1-5 years” (66 people), and there were as many as 21 in the category of ‘less than 1 year.” It clearly shows that so-called “women power” among prosecutors is a recent phenomenon. The number was relatively small in the categories of “5-10 years” (11 people), and “more than 10 years” (5 people).

Regarding age groups, 31 were in their 20s, and 68 were in their 30s. There were only four in their 40s. Concerning the major, an overwhelming number, 72, were law majors. There were some license holders: two pharmacists, a middle-school teacher, a technician, and an information specialist. There were 11 people with children in kindergarten and elementary school, and 31 with pre-schoolers.

There were two women public prosecutors who took long-term maturity leave of more than six months to one year for child rearing. Maybe because of that, 49 people said, “It is hoped that the public prosecutors’ office could have a child center.” It shows how difficult it is to be a working mom. Prosecutor Lee Young-joo (aged 38, passing 32nd Bar Exam), the head of women’s affairs in the Ministry of Justice, has three children aged three, 11, and 13. She said, “Since the eldest child entered elementary school, there had to be a change of school four times depending on where I was appointed. I feel sorry that I haven’t taken care of his homework, even once.”