This past week fourteen people staged an escape from the Huai’an Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in China. Last August a Chinese teen who was sent to the Nanning Qihang treatment center for his Internet addiction died under the hands of his “instructors”. So, just what is going on in these Chinese “treatment centers” – or so called ‘Internet boot camps’ – that are designed to “cure” people of their web addiction?
As one official with one of the Internet addiction treatment centers in China explains, “We have to use military-style methods such as total immersion and physical training on these young people. We need to teach them some discipline and help them to establish a regular lifestyle.”
Or beat them within an inch of their lives – sometimes beyond that inch.
Den Senshan, the teen who died last year, had been sent to the center by his parents for help with his ‘Internet addiction’. Why would a parent voluntarily send their child to such a place? In the words of one parent, “I don’t think there is any problem with the training methods at the centre. They are for my child’s own good.”
Clearly that wasn’t the case for Den Senshan, whose Internet boot camp torturers were, in fact, sentenced to jail this year for his death.
“He just loves surfing the internet a lot, so we sent him there, but never thought he would die there,” sobbed his mother shortly after learning of his death.
[The full extent of Senshan’s injuries, which were incurred his first day there (he died the first night he was at the center) are horrific. This is a picture of him following his death – Warning: this is a very disturbing, full colour picture – the picture is here.]
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The fourteen youths, ages 15 through 22, who escaped last week from the Huai’an Internet Addiction Treatment Centre had had enough of the “monotonous work and intensive training” at the center, and so they tied their “duty supervisor” to his bed, and made a run for it. Unfortunately for them, not having money to pay the fare for the cab they had all crammed into, the cab driver drove them to the nearest police station. All but one of the boys (they were all boys) was taken immediately back to the treatment center, while one of their mothers tearfully explained she had committed her son to the treatment center because his addiction was so bad that he had once played videogames for 28 hours straight. No word on what happened to the 14th boy.
Interestingly, at least some of these Internet addiction boot camp treatment centers are privately run, and in fact, before Senshan’s death, Chinese state media had reported abuse taking place at some unregistered private Internet “treatment centers” in China.
The Huai’an Internet Addiction Treatment Centre from which the 14 escaped last week is one of the private institutions. The alleged leader of last week’s escape had been committed to Huai’an for a six-month course of treatment, for which his mother had paid the equivalent of $2,635 (18,000 yuan).
The Chinese government itself, however, has sent a very strong message about its position on Internet addiction, saying in a recently released white paper that it is not only committed to online safety for minors, but that it “would take measures” to keep Chinese youth from “overindulging on the Internet.”
The China Youth Association for Network Development has estimated that there up to 24 million Chinese youth addicted to the Internet, with as many as half of these being addicted to Internet gaming.
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