Korea’s human rights authority says No Kids zones are discriminative

2023.08.29 09:56:01 | 2023.08.29 12:06:58

A cafe with a no-kids policy in Seoul. [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]이미지 확대

A cafe with a no-kids policy in Seoul. [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]

South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission has recently concluded that not allowing the entry of infants and toddlers to department stores’ VIP lounges is a discrimination against children, asserting that barring children solely based on age, without valid reasons, is not legitimate.

The commission said Monday that it will issue an official announcement recommending the withdrawal of outright exclusion against children in VIP lounges. The recommendation affects all three major Korean department stores, Lotte, Shinsegae, and Hyundai, which operate VIP lounges as kids-free places.

The authority had previously issued a similar guidance to a restaurant on Jeju Island in 2017, which maintained a no-kids policy.

The so-called no-kids zones are commercial establishments without explicit legal grounds for excluding children, such as serving alcohol or showing adult content, where age restrictions like “no one under 13” or “no preschoolers” are imposed by the business owner.

In response to the decision, major department stores expressed willingness to review the recommendation.

“VIP lounges are designed for quiet relaxation, differing in the purpose of the kids-free policy from regular restaurants, and there are other locations children are allowed to go in, except high-class lounges,” said an unnamed official from a department store. “We will explore alternatives beyond outright child restrictions for such upscale lounges.”

The commission contended that the no-kids zones violate children’s constitutional rights to equality specified in Article 11 of the Constitution and the pursuit of happiness in Article 10, as well as Korea’s ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

While some proponents of the kids-free zones argue based on the freedom of business under Article 15 of the Constitution, the commission has concluded that this freedom is not absolute and should not significantly harm the public interest in the pursuit of private interests.

“The no-kids zones have a greater impact on the public interest, compared with private interests,” said Choi Joong-hee, head of the Human Rights Commission’s Child and Youth Rights Division.

Although the commission’s recommendations often influence policies and are generally embraced by the private sector to avoid negative public perception, they lack legal binding power.

Despite the commission’s previous recommendation against kid-free restaurants in 2017, the number of such places has continued to surge.

There are about 400 to 500 cafes, restaurants, and other businesses operating as no-kids zones.

By Song Kyung-eun, Park Hong-joo, and Han Yubin

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