Korean Bathhouses And The Children’s Age Limit Dilemma

child-with-parent-in-bath

The culture of bathing in gender-segregated nude public baths is a pastime enjoyed by Koreans of all ages. But the old-age Confucian precept, that a boy and a girl cannot sit together past the age of 7 [男女七歲不同席, 남녀칠세부동석], still seems to hold some continuity in its barest form: until what age can a child enter the bath of the opposite-sex? The following article describes some of the issues at hand.

child-in-changing-room

From Asia Economy:

[Note: all ages translated in English have been converted to Western age unless otherwise stated]

Issue Surrounding Children Entering Bath of Opposite-sex

In ten years, age limit drops from 7 to 5 – far from reality

# Gramma Kim (65), who lives in Yongin’s Deokcheon district, went to the public bath with her 3 year old grandson, causing a bit of a stir. Since the boy was a little tall for his age, he had difficulties entering the women’s bathing area, with the bathhouse lady asking him his age. [He replied and] Another lady in the changing rooms told his grandmother “3 years old? At that age, they know everything!” Feeling uncomfortable, the boy importunately said “Let’s go home!” Gramma Kim muttered “He’s just celebrated his third birthday, what does he know at that age? People these days… making a fuss over nothing!”

# Office worker Ms. Jeon, from Seoul’s Seodaemun district, has decided to never go again to public bathhouses. Last weekend, just as she finished her sauna session and entered into one of the baths, a little boy of about 2-3 years old jumped right in, smacking her on the bum. Chasing after the boy who ran away, Jeon found his mother to explain the situation, to which the mother said angrily “He’s playing around… what’s wrong with that?” Jeon vented “There’s no CCTV in this place, and I don’t think he had [perverted] intentions smacking my buttocks, but had it been a girl I’d have felt less uncomfortable!”

netizens-debate-age-limit-for-opposite-sex-entering-bathhouseThe debate about the age limit until which young children should be allowed to enter the bath of the opposite sex is never-ending. According to the current law, boys and girls up to the age of 5 can enter the opposite sex’s bath, but in reality this is not the case.

The Public Health Act explicitly states “Under no circumstances can a child over the [western] age of 5 enter the baths and changing rooms of the opposite sex.” Failure to do so and the bathhouse owner must pay a fine of 3 million won. But the [Western] age of 5 corresponds to the Korean age of 7. Nowadays children’s physical growth and discernment is bigger than ever before, but there are also many cases of premature children who are 5 years old, and this can cause problems.

For example, there are many women who complain that that they feel sexual embarrassment from the annoying behaviour and gazes from little boys who accompany their mothers to the public bath. And as child sex abuse becomes more of a social problem these days, there are voices to limit such circumstances where fathers bring their daughters to the bathhouse.

The same goes for bathhouse owners, who say that the law does not reflect the reality of things. Mr. Kim (60), who operates a public bath in Mok-dong, Seoul, noted “Occasionally, there are some customers who no matter what will bring their relatively grown up kids simply based on the fact that they are 5 years old,” but also asked “Can you realistically lower the legal age to 3/4 years old?”

The legal age for children to enter the baths of the opposite sex was already lowered in 2003 from the age of 7 to 5. But following the continued dispute between bathhouse owners and customers, in 2009 the Korea Federation of Public Bathhouses demanded the Ministry of Health and Welfare to amend the legal enforcement age regulations from 5 to 4, but this was declined. This is because they were of the opinion that the position of single parents and working couples should also be considered.

sign-in-bathhouse

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Health’s Division of Healthy Life and Oral Health said that “While it is important for use to consider the points of view of customers who use bathhouses, revising the law is somewhat difficult as we should also take into consideration the position of parents who find themselves in difficult situations. The best solution is for customers and owners to self-regulate themselves [knowing that taking an older-looking child might make others feel uncomfortable].” But the spokesperson added “If the general consensus is that there should be a revision, the Department would consider it.”

A spokesperson from the Korean Federation of Public Bathhouses emphasized that “In the long run, it is necessary to lower the age limit step-by-step to meet with the reality of the situation. We must revise the current law to make customers feel as comfortable as possible when they go to bathhouses.”

Comments from Naver:

snmi****:

My son is 2 years old…but he once said “Mummy! Look at those boobies!”… Since then, he goes with his dad…

bibi****:

The kid smacked the woman on the bum and ran away, but I can’t understand his mother who got angry and said “what’s wrong with that?”… She’s crazy. Must be something wrong with her…

0501****:

You can bathe the kid at home you know…

sych****:

It’s hard to find pure kids these days…

jsk9****:

Yeah but to be honest, some kids feel uncomfortable entering [the opposite-sex bath] but it’s their mothers who force them duh duh of course I can understand them mums who want their children to wash properly, but you should also consider how kids feel

qwso****:

My father never went to the bathhouse so if I went alone, I wouldn’t wash properly. So my mother brought me everytime to the women’s section till second or third grade [6-7 years old] I hated it. When I was in first grade [5 years old] I met my [female] classmate and she joked about it for 1 year ㅠㅠ But a while later she liked me… Mothers shouldn’t force their sons to go to the [female] bath. The best way is to control such environments, but mothers should acknowledge the situation and be flexible ㅠ

mell****:

What’s this law business? Sons should just go with their fathers

thea****:

5 years old is way too old… the age should be lowered to 2 years old!

dddx****:

The most ideal situation is for son to go with father and daughter with mother

gunb****:

ke ke he smacked her bum and ran away, amazing!

audg****:

What the hell are parents doing… why does she talk like that instead of apologizing? The woman felt uncomfortable…This one time, a little boy went up to a woman washing her hair and stuck his finger in her hole. She smashed his face, the situation developing into a big fightㅡㅡ Apologize when you should apologize! Seriously, they’re only concerned about their precious kids

guns****:

Some time ago, I went to the sauna and felt uncomfortable seeing a little girl inside. I wondered what on earth her father was thinking to bring her into the men’s bathing area… If you flash your OOO to a 4 year old girl on the roadside, you’ll get an electronic anklet [for sex offenders], but it’s ok to do so in a public bath… what kind of standard is that? In public bathhouses, the opposite sex shouldn’t be allowed to enter at all…

yozm 3인자2:

Till what age can girls enter the men’s side?

milk****:

I went to the swimming pool and saw a father bring his daughter into the men’s changing room! It seemed the girl sensed it was not a comfortable environment for her and covered her privates! And then I thought this kind of situation was not desirable for her and for others

chel****:

Back when I was 5, I had sexual curiosity. Guess it depends on the kid

hsj1****:

Kids should wash at home ~~

rmsi****:

3 years old seems most suitable

wamh****:

When going to a bathhouse, I’ve noticed many times both sexes splitting, making it difficult for families to meet, and causing fights between parents as to who should wash the children. They should establish a family bath.

bigs****:

Kids these days… [mentally] grow up so quickly…

korean-bathhouse

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  • “And as child sex abuse becomes more of a social problem these days, there are voices to limit such circumstances where fathers bring their daughters to the bathhouse.”

    Girls aren’t the only ones sexually abused, and men aren’t always the ones who do it.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    Some guy brought his daughter, who looked about four, into the shower room at my gym. I’ve been to nude beaches where nobody thinks anything of people of all ages and genders walking around nude, but this felt very awkward – kind of like I was intruding into their family bathroom. The one other guy in the room had the same sort of expression on his face.

  • carmouflagger

    :)

    • Pickle

      That’s funny but I once knew a gay man who said he liked breast and he was referring to women. But he wasn’t bi. Yeah, that threw me too.

      • jon776

        I’m straight but I really love cocks.

  • [email protected]

    I’ve never been to an actual bathhouse but I know its popular with many cultures worldwide. I never knew that children frequented them though?
    Assuming communal bathing isn’t a daily thing I would guess it would be like going to spa but who brings 3 year olds to the spa??

    • [email protected]

      Fuck put the email in the wrong place. not that it matters lmao, I think hotmail went defunct?

    • Yu Bum Suk

      Thoroughly scrubbing down and scrubbing down one’s kids seems to be something Koreans feel they need to do on a weekly basis. Also, bear in mind that a lot of Korean homes have really shitty plumbing and bathing facilities, some of which are freezing cold in winter. Some of the bigger bathhouses also offer a lot more than just baths, and are geared up so the whole family can spend hours there in both nude same-sex and non-nude family areas. I myself couldn’t possibly make a day out of taking a bath but it seems a lot of other people can and think a bath is a good occasion for a family outing.

  • This netizen comment is right on: “The kid smacked the woman on the bum and ran away, but I can’t understand his mother who got angry and said “what’s wrong with that?”… She’s crazy. Must be something wrong with her…”
    If you can’t understand why a woman is upset after getting smacked in the butt by a stranger, even if that stranger is a child, I think there must be something wrong with you indeed. Especially if that woman happened to be nude when she was smacked.

    • jon776

      It’s just a kid playing around. No big deal unless it hurts.

      • Raminess

        You should still apologize. You wouldn’t want a stranger touching you when you’re naked, and as a parent or guardian of a young child, you’re held responsible for their behavior in public.

        If your child hit another child in the park, wouldn’t you apologize to that child’s parent? The same rule applies. It doesn’t matter how young the kid is, you apologize for bad behavior and tell the kid not to do it again.

        • jon776

          If it’s a kid I wouldn’t care. So others shouldn’t care either.

          • SorayaVonDerAlm

            you can’t impose your way of thinking onto others. Just agree to disagree.

      • woden1809

        That’s rubbish. Kids need boundaries. One of those boundaries is you don’t hit strangers on the @rse in a public bath. If you don’t teach children boundaries they don’t learn how to behave responsibly.

        This woman instead taught her child that it’s okay to do what *you* want, as long *you* enjoy *yourself*.

        [While pointing finger] **Bad parent**

        • jon776

          You humorless asshole. You’re the cancer that kills this world.

    • James

      seems more a point of poor parenting discipline than anything sexual. Both women are nitwits

  • KCdude

    You think this is the worst thing happened in Korea? How about I tell you that pornography is becoming very common among schoolkids thanks to smartphones everywhere?

    • jon776

      How about I tell you that porn was already common among school. And what’s so bad about porn? Porn is good.

    • Guest

      that happens everywhere though, not just in korea. I don’t see what’s wrong about it either, humans are sexual creatures and the young teenagers must be curious

    • HaakonKL

      Lucky fucking kids.
      I didn’t get any porn until I was twelve. :(

    • tnrc75

      That’s everywhere – certainly not unique to Korean kids. Anyway…you got any evidence of the scope of this problem?

  • SRDawson

    I think the idea of a family bath is good, If I was a single mother with a young son, I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting him go somewhere on his own. I mean over here little boys can get changed at swimming pools with their mothers until they are 5 or six and their mothers go into the men’s changing room with them (if it is a school swim session) I think it is less about what children are like and more about parents controlling their kids properly.I mean my nephew is six and my sister’s husband works a lot so he often changes with us at the swimming baths and he is perfectly well behaved, he doesn’t approach any of the other women and generally they don’t care or even acknowledge his presence there is a lot of factors that go in to these laws but I think the age is reasonable, parents just need to learn to control their children in public.

  • Guest:)

    Public saunas are the norm in my country (North Europe) as well and used daily by
    many people. We don’t use actual bathhouses often but every swimming hall has one (and almost every home) I’ve been going butt naked to a sauna (or bathhouse) with friends or family since I was a kid so there’s really never been anything sexual about it for me, it’s just a normal daily thing, old tradition really. I went with my dad to the men’s side until I was 5, I think. Don’t really remember getting any traumas from that, ha. I just remember being really scared going alone to the women’s side for the first time.

    So from my point of view kids under 6 can easily enter the bath of the opposite-sex. Since, you know, they’re just kids. And, from my perspective, saunas are not associated with sex and sexuality. And so aren’t public ones or bathhouses. Quite the contrary. So I don’t really know how to explain myself (poor English!) but they’re just kids and I don’t see any problem with this.

  • Jang

    I always wondered why/how Korean girls are so “Ho Hum Diddle Me Dum” with being sexually assaulted, they learn to cope at a very young age on the male bathhouse side.

  • iLoveYoungjaeAndXiumin

    They should just have a family section where mothers and fathers can take their children and wash comfortably. That way, a mother doesn’t have to worry about sending her young son to the men’s side alone or a father doesn’t have to send his daughter alone to the women’s side. It’s a simple solution really. And the woman who’s son slapping that woman’s butt should just apologize, even if she genuinely feels like her son did nothing wrong. She should take into consideration the feelings of the assaulted woman.

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