In 2008, Chinese health officials declared that internet addiction will officially be classified as a clinical disorder and claimed that it was among the leading health threats plaguing the nation’s teenagers, according to an eyeopening documentary created by The New York Times. In order to curb the “electronic heroin” problem, special “boot camps” have been created for parents to take their internet addicted teens for rehabilitation.
For three to four months children and young adults ranging from 8 to 30-years-old are housed in a facility where they receive a rigorous schedule of military drills in order to combat their internet or gaming addiction. While some may think that the intensive physical activity is a beneficial part of the rehabilitation process, the corporal punishments and mental torment being inflicted upon the patients have some wondering if these methods are at all an effective treatment for this disorder, if it even, indeed, is one.
In 2012, the news program 16:9 reported that one of these facilities had been responsible for the death of a teenage boy. Like many of the parents who commit their children to these rehab centers, the boy’s father noticed his son spending an alarming amount of time online and believed that the boot camp would give the young man the structure and discipline necessary to overcome his disorder.
Just 12 hours after admitting his son, the father received a phone call every parent dreads. It was the camp to tell the father that his son had died tragically. It was later learned that the boy had been beaten to death by the boot camp’s staff. When he said goodbye to his son, the boy’s father believed that the boy would come out a man. Instead, the man’s son came out in a body bag.
Though some journalists have attempted to draw awareness to the growing problems within these facilities, it wasn’t until a recent incident where a 16-year-old girl from the northern region of the Heilongjiang province was driven to exact revenge on her parents for sending her to one of these boot camps, that the problem went viral.
The Chinese publication The Paper reports that the trouble began when the 16-year-old stabbed her father after an argument about the girl’s decision to drop out of school and work at a nightclub instead. After the incident, the girl’s aunt suggested to the teen’s parents that they send her to one of the internet addiction boot camps that have been sprouting up around the nation.
The family agreed and weeks later the teen was abducted by two men who brought her to the Shandong Institute of Science and Technology Defense Training. There she was subjected to regular beatings. Students who refused to behave were forced to eat in front of a latrine pit. After four months the teen was released, labeled as a “problem juvenile.”
After her release the girl took to her blog to describe her terrible experience at the institute and to vent about her anger with her parents. In one post she wrote,
“I will use their money to practice boxing and martial arts, and ambush them later. I will make them disabled, if not die.”
In September of 2016, the girl would finally exact her revenge. She tied her mother to a chair in order to allow her to starve to death. She then sent a letter to the aunt who suggested she attend the school. In the letter the girl demanded that she send money so she could move to a new town and attend a school to study physics.
The aunt complied, but it was already too late. By the time the girl had received the money and contacted emergency dispatch her mother was dead. She is now facing manslaughter charges, and her case is now shedding light on the treatment of students sent to these rehabilitation centers. Many former students are stepping forward about the abuse at the school now that the story has gone viral, including a wife who was sent to the school by her husband.
Chinese press have attempted to discuss the allegations with school officials, but have not been welcomed with open arms. When The Paper tracked down the school’s principal a reporter was threatened and police had to diffuse the situation. Just taking pictures of the school has caused some reporters to have their phones confiscated by school officials. Though the school may not wish to answer any questions, evidence points to severe abuse going on within the facility.