BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Ministry of Health has banned the use of physical punishment to wean teens off the net, months after a boy was beaten to death at an Internet boot camp.
Chinese parents have turned to more than 200 organisations offering treatment for Internet "disorders" as the government increasingly warns of unhealthy Internet habits among the young.
Many of the camps are imbued with a military atmosphere. Patients are forced to replace hours in front of the computer with arduous physical drills or even more extreme "treatments".
"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 for Internet use by minors, posted on its website (www.moh.gov.cn).
It appeared to have dropped the term "Internet addiction", widely used in earlier ministry documents, perhaps in a bid to calm worried parents who fuelled a mushrooming business of harsh camps to prevent teens from spending hours online.
The death of 15-year-old Deng Senshan, just hours after he checked into an Internet bootcamp in the southwestern Guangxi region in early August, caused a media storm in China.
Days later another teenager, Pu Liang, was taken to hospital with water in the lungs and kidney failure after a similar attack in Sichuan Province.
The government in July had already banned electro-shock therapy as a treatment for Internet addiction, after media reports about a controversial psychiatrist who administered electric currents to nearly 3,000 teenagers.
The latest guidelines suggest officials in Beijing do not think that those with unhealthy Internet habits should be forced offline permanently.
"The goal of intervention is ... to urge the target people to use the Internet in a healthy way," the guideline said. "It's not to stop them from using the Internet."
(Reporting by Yu Le and Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Ken Wills and Sugita Katyal)
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