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Nation Faces Psychological Battle
China faces a serious challenge in preventing children from being psychologically damaged by misuse of information technology, a State Council official said Wednesday.

Zhang Li, an official with the Women and Children Work Committee under the State Council, had been asked to comment on the recent case of a 14-year-old boy in Tianjin Municipality.

The adolescent - whose name has been withheld - phoned a sex line for three months and he is now on the verge of a mental breakdown.

He first called the sex line voluntarily in early February but wanted to stop calling after one month. However, employees of the company knew the boy's phone number and called him back. They threatened to tell his parents and teachers of what he had done unless he continued calling the line.

Zhang said: "More and more people celebrate the rich and convenient variety of information that modern technology has brought us but not many have realized that some psychologically weaker groups, especially children, have been exposed to the severe danger of psychological abuse.

"More alarming is that even fewer people have realized that psychological abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse."

The case of the Tianjin boy serves as a good example.

He dropped out of school because he could not concentrate on his studies or take part in school activities.

The boys' parents found out in early May what had been going on when their phone bill was much higher than normal. They called the police, who have detained three of the sex-line company's employees for questioning since late last month.

However, the boy still feels scared when the phone rings. A psychiatrist suggested that the boy become an in-patient at a mental hospital but his parents - who are both farmers - simply cannot afford this.

The boy's mother said: "We have paid several thousand yuan for the telephone bill, as well as another several thousand for all kinds of medicine, and we do not know what to do next."

Zhang said she was very worried that so little had been done to prevent such incidents in the first place.

"Although it is stated clearly in the country's development programme for children that it is essential to take precautionary measures to guard children against possible psychological abuse, not much has been done," said Zhang.

Zhang's committee has decided to conduct a national research programme later this year to find out how children are influenced by the increasing amount of information available today.

(China Daily June 6, 2002)

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