Shanghai has opened the first shelter in the country for Internet addicts to help them bridge the gap between their virtual world and dysfunctional family homes.
The inauguration of the halfway house last week highlights growing government concerns about the explosive growth of the web in China, where one in eight young net users are reportedly addicted.
According to local media, the Shanghai Sunshine Community Youth Affairs Centre offers one-night stays to youths who would otherwise spend all their time in Internet cafes rather than going home.
It can provide free accommodation and counselling for up to four minors at a time. Visitors can read books, play table tennis, play the piano or use computers (not connected to the Internet).
The aim is not to stop young people going online but to provide an alternative to gloomy cafes and an opportunity to discuss why they spend so much time in them.
"None of the teenagers are forced to come here," said Wang Hui, the chief social worker at the house. "We wander around in Internet bars at night and bring them to the halfway house if the teen agrees."
A survey by the China Youth Association for Network Development found 13 per cent of young people with access to the web are online for more than 38 hours a week a level agreed among health professionals worldwide as indicating "Internet addiction disorder."
A separate study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences blamed Internet addiction for 80 per cent of the failure rate among students.
China is expected to surpass 160 million Internet users this year and authorities have responded with increasing urgency to what they see as an epidemic of sleep disorders, depression and even deaths caused by Internet overuse.
(China Daily August 31, 2006)