South Korean Law to Protect Young K-Pop Stars From Sexualization, Overwork

'A Girl at My Door,' July Jung (Un Certain Regard)
Courtesy of Festival De Cannes

Jung’s debut feature focuses on the story of a young woman -- played by Korean star Doona Bae (Jupiter Ascending) -- who is being abused by her stepfather. It was produced by director Lee Chang-dong, who himself has appeared in Cannes competition with Milyang (2007) and Shi (2010). (Sales: CJ E&M Corp.)

The country's notoriously unregulated entertainment industry will have to guarantee minors the right to sleep, learn and say no to being sexualized beginning July 29.

SEOUL — A new law introduced in South Korea will forbid underage singers and actors from taking part in overnight performances and productions and from being coerced into sexualized portrayals.

A bill passed by the Korean National Assembly in January will go into legal effect July 29, following the six-month notification period, with the aim of improving working conditions in the local entertainment sector.

Korea's entertainment business is notoriously improvisational and unregulated.

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In-demand K-pop stars many of whom are teenage "idols" have been known to rehearse and perform without sleep, while Korean TV dramas are notorious for going into production without a complete script, providing actors their lines on a day-to-day basis before shooting scenes, often overnight. On film sets, actors are often exposed to dangers unthinkable in other national entertainment industries, as many performers are encouraged to carry out stunts themselves, which the Korean government partially addressed recently by financing ambulances for action projects.

Under the new law, underage stars will be guaranteed the basic rights to learn, rest and sleep, though exceptions can be made for projects requiring long-distance travel.

Weekly working hours for children younger than 15 are not to exceed 35 hours, while minors aged 15-18 are limited to 40 hours. Minors cannot work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless their guardians give consent.

It will also be illegal to coerce minors into wearing revealing stage costumes or dancing sexually suggestive choreography routines.

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Breaking the law will result in a recommendation of correction from the culture ministry, and failure to comply will yield a fine of roughly $10,000.

In addition, one can face up to five years in prison for forcing underage talent to act out rape or sexual harassment scenes. Onlookers have voiced concern, for example, about 14-year-old actress Kim Sae-ron's engaging yet disconcerting performance in the child abuse drama A Girl at My Door, which premiered earlier this year at Cannes.

Two years in prison or a $10,000 fine is the punishment for employing minors in commercial endorsements for drugs or venues and items deemed harmful for juveniles.