China plans to tackle Internet addiction

BEIJING - China is to develop its own criteria for diagnosing Internet addiction in young people this year, in the hope of reducing the growing trend.

Fifteen authorities, including the Ministry of Culture and the State Internet Information Office, announced a basic framework on Sunday.

In the plan, the country will define what makes an addict, and spend about three years developing effective methods to intervene in minor online gaming addictions.

Meanwhile, regulations on Internet cafes and online game companies will become stricter, and a stronger supervision system will be implemented.

"Internet addiction has become a serious problem in China," said Li Jianwei, an official with the Culture Ministry. "Although some rules restricting students from playing online games have been introduced, the problem has not been solved completely."

In Ziyang, Sichuan province, police recently detained a 14-year-old boy suspected of poisoning his family after he was banned from playing video games.

The boy is accused of pouring farm chemicals into edible oil on Feb 2. It is alleged his actions caused his parents, elder brother and sister-in-law to suffer stomach problems, vomiting and other adverse effects.

The boy confessed he poisoned his family because his mother banned him from playing computer games, police said.

"The case is under investigation. The boy's family has been discharged from a hospital," said Yin Shijun, a police officer in Ziyang's Yanjiang district. Gu Jun, sociology professor from Shanghai University, said the case is extreme.

Experts say thousands of teenagers in China are addicted to the Internet. Zhang Zhen, a native of Heilongjiang province and a junior at Beijing Union University, was an online game addict. He spent more than 4,000 hours playing World of Warcraft, a popular online game.

"My second year in high school was my crazy days with online games. I spent more than 12 hours a day playing the game for six months," Zhang said, adding that more than half of his male friends in high school play online games.

"During my high school years, I was forbidden from playing online games at home, so I spent days and nights in Internet cafes," he said.

The 22 year old still loves computer games. When he does not have classes, he wakes up, washes briefly and heads straight for his laptop.

"But my enthusiasm for online games is waning as I get older, I have more things to do, such as looking for internships," he added. He said the long hours he dedicated to gaming when he was addicted affected his health. Wang Ping, managing director of the Chinese Society for Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Research, an NGO specialising in helping young offenders, said the time is ripe to draw up a plan to deal with Internet addiction.

"The unhealthy content online, such as violence and obscenity, has damaged young people, physically and mentally," Wang said. "But what symptoms define Internet addiction? How to diagnose young addicts, and at what level of addiction, is still vague," he said.

The plan is timely and will set out a clear direction on how to cope with Internet addiction, Wang said.

However, he added it will take a long time to enforce the plan because the issue covers many departments and needs each of them to carry out research and cooperate.