Judicial System

Children's use of internet to be tightened

Updated: Dec 29, 2023 By Cheng Si China Daily Print
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A family of three play with their phones on a bench in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in April. CHINA DAILY

Latest rule to better safeguard minors as addiction in rural areas becomes concern

China will tighten its supervision on children's internet use to ensure a healthier environment for their growth, according to a State-level regulation that will come into effect on Jan 1.

The regulation has been approved by the State Council, China's Cabinet, and will provide legal protections to children in terms of their rights to use the internet.

In the past few years, China has seen its number of child netizens continuously grow. A recent report shows that the nation had more than 193 million child netizens by the end of last year, with the internet penetration rate among the group increasing to 97.2 percent in 2022 from 93.7 percent in 2018.

The growth is due mainly to the growing prevalence and popularity of online education and online entertainment such as games and livestreaming, as well as short videos, according to the report.

The report was released by the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of China and the China Internet Network Information Center, and is based on surveys of 31,688 students, 11,624 parents and 787 teachers from 31 provinces and regions.

The report said that more young people have started using the internet in the past five years. The urban-rural internet disparity has decreased from 5.4 percentage points in 2018 to one percentage point last year.

"It's common to see school or kindergarten teachers assigning or checking homework online nowadays," said Zhu Wei, an associate professor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

"Many netizens we talked to now are different from the traditionally defined netizens. Now they take the internet as a tool for study rather than the previous purpose of entertainment."

He said that with the increasing network coverage and popularity of electronic devices in rural areas, the urban-rural disparity has also narrowed in terms of hardware. However, with the absence of good regulation there is an increased risk of internet addiction among children.

"Electronic devices such as mobile phones are used by left-behind children in rural areas to contact their parents, who leave their hometowns for better work and pay. They may use these devices for entertainment purposes more often than their peers in urban areas and can get addicted to the internet without proper regulation from families or schools.

"They are too young to tell right from wrong in this case, and once they get obsessed with the internet, they may become weary of studying, indulge in online games, or even quit school," he said.

The report also mentioned the weaker internet education for children in rural areas, who may have fewer internet skills or poorer awareness of self-protection compared with their urban counterparts.

"It's important to see both sides of the internet. I remember I once had some students from rural areas who were not familiar with internet use and had problems dealing with their homework or research at college. The lack of internet skills or knowledge is not good for their future development," said Wang Wenda, director of college students' psychological health education at Xinhua College of Ningxia University.

He added that for children from the countryside, the internet is an effective way of making up for the uneven distribution of educational resources and can help to broaden horizons as well as entertain.

Wang suggested that the public should have greater awareness that internet use is a result of social development, which has blended people's daily work and life.

"We have to know that children are easily lured by online entertainment by their nature and electronic devices have become a 'parenting tool', which we adults may use to comfort our children when we are doing something else," he added.

Zhu, the associate professor, said that the State-level regulation that will take effect next year will offer sound protection to children on the internet. But it will still require joint efforts from the government, society and online companies to enhance management in some "gray zones" — for example, illegally operated websites offering online gaming or reading services containing inappropriate content.

The report called for improved internet education in rural areas and stricter management of short videos to give correct guidance to children.

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