S. Korea to give animals legal status, tackling abuse

Three years ago, little Jin-hui the Pomeranian was buried alive and left for dead.

His owners weren't charged.

That's because in South Korea, animals have no legal status.

That makes it difficult to bring potential abusers to heel.

Jin-hui, which means 'True Light' in Korean, now lives in a shelter run by Kim Gea-Yeung.

"His owner lost his temper and told his kids to bury him alive. He was barely alive when we rescued him after it was reported, but the man wasn't punished as the dog was recognised as an object owned by him."

Cases like Jin-hui may soon change, according to Choung Jae-min, the justice ministry's director-general of legal counsel.

In an interview with Reuters, he said the country is planning to amend its civil code, giving animals a legal upgrade.

"Once the Civil Act declares that animals that used to be defined as property are not objects, the fundamental evaluation and perception will change in the legal world. When attempts are made to injure or kill an animal, (the declaration) will be reflected when judges determine punishment."

By 2019 nearly one in five people in South Korea owned pets.

But the number of animal abuse cases had also risen more than ten-fold.

With it, the push for change has grown steadily stronger.

If parliament passes the amendment next month, it would make South Korea one of only a handful of countries to recognise animals as 'beings' - with a right to protection, enhanced welfare and respect for life.

It could also pave the way towards life insurance packages for animals, or even a ban there on the consumption of dog meat.

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