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Help Legalize Tattooing in South Korea

Given the proliferation of tattoo artists in the United States and the freedom they enjoy to ply their craft it's easy to forget that in other countries tattooists aren't so lucky. One somewhat surprising example of this is in South Korea. Despite being seen as a progressive country in many ways the government's views on tattooing is significantly behind the times. Getting a tattoo is considered to be a medical procedure in South Korea, therefore the only people who can do so legally are licensed medical doctors. And as you would assume there aren't a heck of a lot of doctors taking time between surgeries to do tattoos.

As our own tattooing history has taught us people are going to get tattoos regardless of whether or not they are illegal, but legalization and regulation is what allows the industry to thrive. In South Korea the legal status of tattooing is particularly troubling since they consider tattooing to be a medical procedure. Thus when a tattoo artist is caught giving someone ink it is not a simple health code violation—it is considered medical malpractice with a penalty that can include jail time.

There is a movement to legalize tattooing in South Korea being led by the Korea Tattoo Artists Association (KTAA) but they are going to need your help. While the government has taken steps to legalize tattooing the Korean Medical Association has been fighting the change. In order to convince the Korean Medical Association to reconsider their position the organization is looking to get letters from medical professionals around the world explaining that doctors don't tattoo as well as the importance of regulating the artists so that tattoos can be done in a healthy manner. The letters will be presented to the Ministry of Health, the organization that will ultimately be responsible for regulating a newly legal tattoo industry, and help them make their decision about legalization.

Below you will find a letter from the vice president of the KTAA explaining exactly what they need. If you can help out please contact ChelseaVotel and she will steer you in the right direction. In the gallery below you can see some the fantastic work being done by artists currently operating underground in South Korea. Your letters can help them tattoo without fear.

Here is a translated message from Korea Tattoo Artist Association vice president and his request for help.

Dear Doctors abroad,
Hello, this is Jeong-Won Choi, the vice president of Korea Tattoo Artists Association (KTAA). For many years in South Korea, lots of tattooists have been forced to be criminals as the Korean government considers the performance of tattooing a medical practice, which involves cases of an actual prison sentence. It could possibly be the only country that makes tattooists criminals.
KTAA is now facing the government on the matter of legalization of Tattoo Act. Although many government organizations including the Ministry of Health admit the specialty of the artistry in tattooing and support legalizing it, the Korean Medical Association is strongly against us. In fact, it is a common knowledge that medical doctors cannot execute the performance of an art, which is tattooing, while the Doctors in Korea claim that is still a medical treatment.
​We respect medical doctors and their committed effort on the development of medical skills. However, tattooing is for those properly trained, us tattooists’ job and duty. Under “illegal” practice of tattoo business, the situation has more become aggravated without government’s supervision and proper regulations. It is just making it worse.
​Please, may I ask for your conscientious views and comments on this matter ? May I ask for your help? All the comments will be presented to Korea’s Ministry of Health and will support us facing the Korean Medical Association. We really need your help!!

P. S. It will be appreciated if you mention your medical license, practicing hospitals, and contacts in the letter.

Jung-Won Choi

Letters supporting the cause can be sent here Thanks.