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.
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!”
The 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.
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:
My son is 2 years old…but he once said “Mummy! Look at those boobies!”… Since then, he goes with his dad…
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…
You can bathe the kid at home you know…
It’s hard to find pure kids these days…
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
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]ㅜ 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
What’s this law business? Sons should just go with their fathers
5 years old is way too old… the age should be lowered to 2 years old!
The most ideal situation is for son to go with father and daughter with mother
ke ke he smacked her bum and ran away, amazing!
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
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…
Till what age can girls enter the men’s side?
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
Back when I was 5, I had sexual curiosity. Guess it depends on the kid
Kids should wash at home ~~
3 years old seems most suitable
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.
Kids these days… [mentally] grow up so quickly…