|Soldiers attend an Armed Forces Day event at Daegu air base, Oct. 1, 2019. / Joint Press Corps|
By Lee Suh-yoon
The nation's human rights watchdog recommended the Korean Air Force to stop making new trainees shave their heads, Monday, saying the practice is an excessive restriction of the soldiers' rights.
Unlike their counterparts in the Korean army and navy, air force recruits are required to completely shave their heads during the month-long training period. Army or navy trainees, on the other hand, are allowed to keep a crew cut up to 5 cm length at the front.
The complaint was brought to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) last April. The complainant ― the parent of an Air Force trainee at the time ― claimed the head-shaving practice was an encroachment on soldiers' human rights. The Air Force rebutted the complaint saying the head-shaving measure was necessary to "effectively turn new recruits from civilians into serviceman". It also said the measure helped prevent the spread of hygiene-related maladies and make up for the shortage of barbers on Air Force camps.
Taking the complainant's side, the human rights group recommended the Air Force scrap the head-shaving regulation, calling it an unnecessary and excessive measure.
"Shaving trainees' head is considered as a rite of passage for trainees," NHRCK Commissioner Choi Hye-ri said in a written recommendation to the Air Force. "However, the NHRCK survey results show that it is a practice imposed against the will of the organization's weakest members and does not play any function in creating a sense of unity or pride within the Air Force. The claim that it instills a soldier mentality in the trainees is also questionable."
The fact the army and the navy did not require their trainees to completely shave their head also eroded the Air Force's argument that the practice was necessary to properly manage new recruits, Choi added.
The NHRCK's decision was backed by a survey conducted last October of 70 air force trainees. According to the survey, 65.7 percent of trainees said they were against the head-shaving regulation and 71.5 percent said they were more than capable of going through the training process with a crew cut. Some also responded that the head-shaving led to various skin problems on the scalp because of germs and other contaminants.