The South Korean military said Sunday it plans to lower the bar for the conscription of active duty soldiers, as the country's population is widely expected to shrink drastically.
The Ministry of National Defense and the Military Manpower Administration are currently in the process of revising related regulations to lower the physical requirements and standards for active duty troops.
The measure under review comes amid a precipitate fall in the country's population. The phenomenon is likely to drastically cut the number of men in their 20s to less than 250,000 after 2022, compared to some 350,000 as of 2017, leaving far fewer able-bodied young men eligible for the mandatory military service.
"The Military Manpower Administration and other related bodies predict a major problem in securing manpower (for active duty troops) from around 2021. They plan to revise (the conscription standards) next year," a government official said.
Under the revised plan, the government will use a new set of medical standards that are less strict than those currently applied, such as those on body mass index and high blood pressure.
The new standards are likely to be finalized in early 2021, and the military will continue to take steps to gradually further loosen the requirements, according to the official.
The government expects the new plan will help it better obtain the active duty soldiers it needs to maintain the armed forces.
About 90 percent of young South Korean men are required to fulfill the mandatory military service and join the armed forces as active duty troops. The rest are put on reservist duty or get a military waiver under the current medical and physical test standards.
In 2009, 291,000 men joined the military as active duty soldiers but the corresponding number dived to 253,000 last year.
The shrinking pool of young men eligible for military service comes as South Korea is experiencing a drastic fall in childbirths.
Last year, South Korea saw 320,000 newborns, bringing the average number of babies born to a fertile woman to 0.98.
The military is also considering various measures to counterbalance the shrinking population like using more high-tech equipment and enlisting female soldiers and naturalized Korean citizens. (Yonhap)