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Early welfare programs

During the period of Japanese colonial rule, the Chosun Relief Order provided the first modern public relief program in Korea. But it has been criticized for serving political ends rather than being a genuine social welfare program (Yong-hwan Lee et al., 2006; Seop-joong Shin et al., 1999; Chan-young Yoon et al., 1998).

Welfare programs between the signing of the Korean War armistice in 1953 and the launch of the first economic development plan in 1961 comprised mainly of offering emergency relief assistance to refugees and orphans displaced by the war. Little more could be done since the government lacked funding to support welfare programs. Article 19 of the Constitution spoke of giving public assistance to the most vulnerable, namely the old, the disabled or the unemployed.

Limited access to welfare services was offered to the poor, women and children, and the disabled. The government did not provide much assistance, which instead was mainly the responsibility of civil organizations, overseas aid institutions and religious bodies. The government’s role was mostly confined to setting up welfare institutions for injured soldiers and policemen and their families, which provided public assistance, jobs and housing.1) Other early steps toward creating a social security system included the Labor Standards Act in May 1953 and the Charter for Children in 1956. The former did not have much real meaning given the dearth of profitable businesses and the lack of the government’s administrative capacity. Much the same applied to the latter.

Source : SaKong, Il and Koh, Youngsun, 2010. The Korean Economy Six Decades of Growth and Development. Seoul: Korea Development Institute.


1)These specialized welfare programs were the result of the Military Relief Act of 1950, the Police Relief Act of 1951, and the Act on Pensions for Deceased or Injured Military and Police Personnel of 1952.


· Lee, Yong-hwan et al., Social Welfare Legislations, Daewang Press, 2006 (in Korean).
· Shin, Seop-joong et al., Social Welfare Legislations in Korea, University Press, 1999 (in Korean).
· Yoon, Chan Young et al., Social Welfare Legislations I, Nanam Press, 1998 (in Korean).

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