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China to ban beating web addicts

Chinese student playing online computer game - 12 October 2009
More than six hours a day online is a sign of addiction, say experts

China's ministry of health has moved to ban the use of physical punishment to treat teenagers addicted to the web, according to draft guidelines.

There are dozens of treatment centres offering to wean youths, mostly boys, from spending hours on the web.

Many of them are military-style boot camps that rely on tough programmes of physical exercise and counselling.

Two boys were beaten at separate camps earlier this year, one died and the other was severely injured.

"When intervening to prevent improper use of the internet we should... strictly prohibit restriction of personal freedom and physical punishments," the ministry said in a draft guideline quoted by Reuters news agency.

In July, the ministry of health formally banned the use of electroshock therapy as a treatment option.

There was a public outcry after 15-year-old Deng Senshan died in August less than 24 hours after arrival at the Qihang Salvation Training Camp in Guangxi province.

Days later, 14-year-old Pu Liang was put in a Sichuan hospital in a serious condition after allegedly being beaten by his boot camp's principal and other students.

Some estimates suggest up to 10% of the country's 100 million web users under the age of 20 could be addicted, and a growing number of rehabilitation services have sprung up to deal with the problem.

Some define an internet addict as anyone who is online for at least six hours a day and has little interest in school.

"The goal of intervention is... to urge the target people to use the internet in a healthy way," the ministry of health statement said.

"It's not to stop them from using the internet."



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