Despite the Great Firewall, China is suffering many of the same issues of the internet age as the Western World.
More than 6,000 people – most of whom are teens – have been admitted to the Addiction Treatment Centre in Eastern China to combat their internet addiction, symptoms of which include being online for more than six hours a day and becoming angry or frustrated when they can’t get online.
Treatment is conducted by removing in-patients’ internet access as well as using controversial methods such as electroshock therapy.
The program may not be all that successful, though. According to reports, one former patient murdered her mum to seek revenge for her rehab stay. Another incident involved an 18-year-old boy dying only 48 hours after entering the facility.
Thankfully, China is now in the process of drafting a law that would regulate the camps and their physical punishments.
Medical specialists have welcomed the proposed law. “It’s a very important move for protecting young children,” said Dr Tao Ran, the director of the Internet Addiction Clinic at Beijing Military General Hospital.
According to Dr Tao, some teenagers have returned from the camps with lasting mental trauma. “They didn’t talk, were afraid to meet people and refused to leave their homes,” he said.
Law Professor Qu Xinjiu from the China University of Political Science and Law blames the widespread social belief that parents hold power and the final say over their children. This jurisdiction even trumps police officers, who have no business in family matters.
This makes it easier for parents to send their children to these camps despite criticism. “That’s why there are so many parents sending their kids for electroshock therapy, even when outsiders think it’s wrong to do so,” said Qu.
Although the proposed law looks promising, Dr Tao said he doubts its enforceability.
There have been studies saying that gaming addiction can be more effectively treated through cognitive behavioural therapy. Dr Daria Kuss from Nottingham Trent University said that medication is also an option for the addiction, especially where addiction is accompanied by mental health disorders.
Corporal punishment and electroshock therapy, however, “are not commonly used in the treatment of internet and gaming addiction and are to be considered unethical and inhumane,” she said.
According to a 2009 study by the China Youth Association for Network Development, more than 24 million Chinese, age 13 to 29, were found to have severe internet addiction.