In Korea, babies are considered a year old on the day they’re born, meaning that someone born in January 1990 is 30 in Korea, not 29. For those born late in the year, the gap can be even greater. A baby born on December 31 turns two on January 1.
This can cause a great deal of confusion, which lawmaker Hwang Ju-hong is determined to change.
South Korea is the “only nation” in East Asia to still use the traditional system, Hwang said when he introduced a bill into parliament earlier this year to bring it in line with the international norm.
In Chinese, age is traditionally written in an ordinal system, beginning with one. The same is true in Korean. A baby is said to be in its first year, or han sal, at birth, and on December 31 it enters its second year, du sal. When expressed in English han sal becomes “one-year-old,” creating confusion.
“The difference in the age calculation methods used in legal and everyday life had various adverse effects such as: wasting unnecessary administrative costs, creating confusion in information exchange due to its difference with other countries and conflict due to fostering a culture of hierarchy based on age and avoiding certain months for childbirth,” Hwang’s bill argues.
If passed, his bill will mean South Korea makes the international system “mandatory in all legal affairs and official documentation.” Local governments and societies will also be encouraged to adopt it for consistency.
While Hwang claims widespread support from other MPs, his bill may face delays that could sink it. South Korea’s National Assembly is deadlocked over controversial election bills, meaning lawmakers are not considering other legislation.
If Hwang’s bill is not debated and voted upon during the current session, it will be scrapped and he will have to reintroduce it after next year’s elections.
Yoonjung Seo reported from Seoul, South Korea. James Griffiths reported from Hong Kong. CNN’s Ryan Nam and Jennifer Kim contributed reporting.