The number of young Internet addicts had soared to 24 million by 2009, almost double the figure for 2005, as the nation's Internet population continues to skyrocket, a survey shows.
The addicts accounted for one in seven young Internet users, according to the poll.
"The survey results highlight the worrying situation of the ever-growing number of young Internet addicts," Hao Xianghong, secretary-general of the China Youth Association for Network Development (CYAND), said yesterday at a press conference to release the results.
The findings come against the backdrop of an increasing number of children and young adults receiving controversial re-education or treatment to fight Internet addiction at rehabilitation schools, camps and clinics dotted across the country.
Last year, governments at all levels sprung into action, closing down cyber cafes and announcing plans to install filtering software on every computer.
The nation's Internet population, already the world's largest, soared nearly 30 percent in 2009 to 384 million, of which one in three was younger than 19, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.
The new survey polled more than 7,000 people aged 6 to 29 in 30 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions from last September to January. It has been conducted every two years since 2005 by CYAND.
As many as 15.6 percent of netizens aged 18 to 23 were Internet addicts, accounting for the largest percentage compared with other age groups, while 8.8 percent of Internet users aged 6 to 12 were web addicts, the lowest percentage, according to the survey.
"Compared with 2005, the number of Internet addicts aged 18 to 23 has increased, while addicts in the 6-12 age group have decreased. It shows that the years of efforts by the authorities to try and prevent children from getting hooked are effective," Hao said.
"But it also shows us that more needs to be done for helping addicts aged 18 to 23, who are mainly students," he said.
Although there is no universal standard on Internet addiction, web users are defined as Internet addicts if school grades, careers or interpersonal relationships in real life are affected by overuse of the Internet, according to Ke Huixin, director and professor of the survey and statistics institute of Communication University of China, who also headed the survey.
Those defined as addicts should also meet at least one of three requirements: He or she always wants to use the Internet; feels annoyed or depressed if denied Internet use; or feels happier in the cyber, rather than the real, world.
"As one of the few nationwide surveys, it is expected to comprehensively reflect the true picture of Internet addiction among Chinese youths," said Ke.
Last year, a Net-addicted teenager was allegedly beaten to death by counselors at an illegal rehabilitation camp in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, which sparked a citizens' outcry on the lack of official supervision over such camps. Some officials and experts have accused rehab institutions of overstating the threat of Internet addiction for profit.
"The survey proves the threat of Internet addiction has not been exaggerated," said Wang Yanghu, head of Xi'an-based Yanghu Adolescents Quality Development Center, a rehab institute established in 2005.
"No matter the controversy on the issue, nobody can deny the fact that Internet addiction has affected the growth of adolescents. We are just trying to help them get rid of the problem," he said.