Seoul (AsiaNews) More and more people are opting for cremation. Last year their number exceeded that of traditional burials for the first time. The government and the Catholic Church, which were initially contrary to the practice, have now decided to meet this growing demand in the population.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported yesterday that that more than half of South Koreans who died in 2005 were cremated with the country's cremation rate standing at 52.6 per cent, up 3.4 percentage points from the previous year. However, the rate of growth has been spectacular. In 1970 it stood only at 10.7 per cent reaching 38.3 per cent in 2001. but for the past five years, the annual average increase was 3.5 percent. If the trend continues, the cremation rate will exceed 70 per cent by 2010.
Cremation rates were highest in cities like Pusan (74.8 per cent), Inchon (69 per cent) and Seoul (64.9 per cent). Figures drop in rural areas like South Cholla Province (27.2 per cent), and North Chungchong Province (29.7 percent).
Despite increasing demand, there are however only 46 crematoria nationwide. "Cremation facilities in metropolitan areas have been failing to meet demand. Hence many [urban] residents [. . .] use cremation facilities in other regions," said Lee Sang-in, a Health Ministry official. But "plans for construction of cremation facilities often get scrapped due to protests from residents."
In 2000 the government amended a cremation bill to allocate public funds to build public crematoria.
A shortage of gravesites explains why "a growing number of South Koreans are turning to cremation despite a traditional emphasis on burial".
For many years now, the Church has no longer opposed cremation. And in many Korean dioceses the cinerarium has started to edge out traditional cemeteries.