South Korea’s constitutional court defends law offering massage licenses only to the blind as they generally have fewer career choices.
The court on Tuesday upheld a controversial century old law that restricts the awarding of massage licences and the ownership of massage parlours to the visually impaired, reported Yonhap news agency.
The law calls for up to five years in prison or the equivalent of $47,000 (USD) in fines for violators and had been challenged by a massage shop owner who had been charged with offering services without a licence in 2015.
The law has been at the centre of an emotionally charged debate in recent years and the defendant argued that the rule infringes on the occupational freedom of non-blind people.
However, in rejecting his claim, the court ruled that “the massage business is virtually the only occupation that visually impaired people can normally enjoy”.
It added that the current system was “an unavoidable choice aimed at guaranteeing the visually impaired people’s right to survival.”
Allowing people who were not blind to open massage shops could lead to exploitation of the visually impaired, the court decided,
The verdict was the fourth in recent years after a series of challenges to a law that was first introduced in Korea by Japanese colonialists in 1913. Establishing a monopoly in the industry was seen as a way to protect disabled people in the absence of state support.
But in the modern era this stance has been controversial. As of 2008, only 7,100 blind people were working in about 1,000 legally registered massage parlours, while an estimated 150,000 to 700,000 masseurs were working illegally to meet growing demand.
That demand includes national sports teams who have a history of employing sighted massage therapists.
An attempt two years earlier to overthrow the law had resulted in fierce protests for weeks and three deaths when two blind masseurs leapt from tall buildings on to subway tracks, and a sighted masseur jumped from a bridge, reported the New York Times.