Sex doll ruling arouses controversy in South Korea

Image: China's sex doll makers
Nearly a quarter-million South Koreans have signed a petition banning the import of sex dolls like this one assembled at the WMDOLL factory in China on July 11, 2018. Copyright ALY SONG
By Reuters with NBC News World News
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A petition launched against the import of sex dolls argues an influx of the products could lead to an increase in sex crimes.


SEOUL, South Korea — A petition calling for a ban on importing life-size sex dolls into South Korea has gathered nearly a quarter-million signatures as of Friday, passing a threshold that requires the president's office to respond to the matter.

While sex dolls are not illegal in South Korea, government customs agencies had blocked their import under a law that restricts materials that "corrupt public morals."

However, the Seoul High Court said in January that sex dolls were for personal use and should be treated differently than pornography, which is heavily restricted under South Korean law. That decision was upheld by the supreme court in June.

The ruling has sparked a backlash, with one petition filed with the presidential Blue House gathering more than 237,000 signatures. The unidentified author of the petition argued that an influx of imported sex dolls could lead to an increase in sex crimes.

A spokesman for Incheon Main Customs said they had allowed imports from Japan, but are still reviewing whether to release imported dolls from China.

The boss of the distributing company which challenged the earlier customs agency ruling said it could not provide total figures for the number of sex dolls imported into South Korea.

But Lee Sang-jin said there had been "a lot of individuals" traveling overseas to bring back dolls since the court ruling. Lee is CEO of MSHarmony Co., a subsidiary of MSJL Co.

Life-size dolls can cost from 1 million won ($840) to 20 million won ($16,750), depending on options and materials such as silicon skin, eye color and body heating systems to make them feel more like a human being.

The author of the petition argued that the customizable features of some dolls could be used to create copies of real people, a concern that Lee dismissed as unfounded.

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