BEIJING (Reuters) - China has banned electro-shock therapy as a treatment for Internet addiction, citing uncertainty in the safety and effectiveness of the practice after criticism in the local media.
The Ministry of Health announcement followed recent media reports about a controversial psychiatrist in Linyi, Shandong Province, who administered electric currents to nearly 3,000 teenagers in an attempt to rid them of their Internet habit.
The Chinese government has led a campaign for over a year against Internet addiction, saying young people's excessive time in Internet cafes, known as Web bars in Chinese, is hurting their studies and damaging family life.
"Electroshock therapy for Internet addiction...has no foundation in clinical research or evidence and therefore is not appropriate for clinical application," read the notice, posted on the ministry website (www.moh.gov.cn).
The world's most populous country also has the world's largest Internet population, with almost 300 million users at the end of last year, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.
Problems caused by Internet over-use are also on the rise, especially among young Chinese seeking an escape from the heavy burden of parental expectations. There are over 200 organizations offering treatment for Internet disorders in China.
The developer of the "electric impact therapy" is Doctor Yang Yongxin, also known as "Uncle Yang," who runs a boot camp called the Internet Addiction Treatment Center at Linyi Mental Hospital, the China Youth Daily said.
Patients are given psychotropic drugs as well as electro-shocks, at a cost of 5,500 yuan ($805) a month.
Strictly trained in military ways and accompanied by their parents, the young patients are prohibited from outside contact.
Most of them were sent to the hospital by force, the China Youth Daily added.
Neither Yang nor his six colleagues at the camp were qualified psychotherapists, it said.
Reporting by Liu Zhen and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Miral Fahmy