If you find yourself in South Korea in search of a massage, if you visit a legal parlor, you won't even need a towel for modesty. That's because for the past century the job of masseur has been reserved for the legally blind. Just over 7,000 blind people with magic fingers work in 1,000 massage parlors throughout the country, but it's not enough to keep up with demand. A black market of massage has sprung up supplying another 150,000 to 700,000 illegal, sighted, masseuses who can face fines from $450 to $4,500 and up to three years in jail.
The stand off over the right to rub down has led to violent protests and suits filed by the sighted masseurs asking the Constitutional Court of South Korea to declare unconstitutional the blind-only law and a violation of their rights. A ruling on the matter could come next week.
To see both sides of the argument,
One sighted and illegal masseur says, “It breaks my heart when I think that what I am doing every day, what I consider my calling, is a crime. We are not trying to steal jobs from the blind. We just want to share the market. We want to live as normal citizens, not as criminals.”
However a blind masseur is fearful of losing his niche saying, “I have a wife and two children to support. If I lose this job, I will have to beg on the streets. How can taking away one job from people who only have one compare with taking one job away from sighted people who have a hundred jobs to choose from?”
Should the government be able to assign one profession to a group of people? Is it discriminatory to those left out — and does it hamper the progress of those the law is trying to help? Or is it a perfect plan, matching abilities with their opposite?