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Ensuring clean online environment
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-31 08:43

When a middle-school teacher sat down at an Internet cafe one day, she was shocked to see that a 14-year-old student from her school who was sitting next to her was browsing graphic pornography.

"He quickly switched the screen to a game when he noticed me," said Peng Longhui, 25, an English teacher in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province.

Scrolling down the address bar of the Internet browser on her computer, Peng found several more websites with pornographic content, which had been viewed by previous users - even though a regulation placed on the wall of the cafe says it is forbidden to look at obscene material.

Peng seldom goes to Internet cafes and her accidental discovery made her both furious and concerned, sparking her into further action.

She went and spoke to the manager, asking for a filter to be installed on most of the computers so they could not be used to access illicit materials, in a bid to protect the moral health of the youth.

Peng suggested that those without filters should be under the scrutiny of staff.

"Public Internet cafes are required, by the government, to install filter technology," she said. "But for some black-hearted cafe owners, the profits far outweigh their consciences."

Peng is not alone in her fight, as a nationwide offensive against pornographic websites was launched on July 16.

The campaign reflects Chinese authorities' growing concerns about the negative influence of the Internet on the nation's young people, who make up a significant portion of China's 80 million-strong Internet users.

Statistics from the China Internet Network Information Centre, published on July 20, show that more than 30 per cent of Internet users are students and about 15 million of them are under the age of 18.

By Tuesday, more than 700 pornographic websites had been shut down and hundreds of people had been detained as part of the campaign, Xinhua reported.

Photos, videos and articles attracting Internet users to pornographic activities online or people involved in organizing the sex trade were targeted.

On July 16, the Ministry of Public Security set up a hotline and a website for people to report porn websites. So far, it has received 733 phone calls and 16,711 online messages targeting websites of phonographic nature, Xinhua reported.

Many news and commercial websites, including some of the most influential ones, contain inappropriate sex-related material and they have been given until September to clean up their act.

Those who fail to comply with the regulation will have their licences revoked and their other operations, such as publishing news, terminated.

Nation mobilized

In addition to police, parents and educators are also the major forces in the war on porn.

"The web is a source for teenager to learn about sex, but the inappropriate content may mislead them," said Li Xiujie, the mother of a 20-year-old girl. Li said she would do whatever she could to assist the healthy development of China's youth.

"Regardless of whether my child is looking at inappropriate material online or not," she said, "they all need proper guidance."

Fu, a senior at university who declined to give his full name, said: "I've been to pornographic websites several times and I'm not in the minority."

Fu said he was 19 when he first looked at a pornographic website, when a pop-up message directed him to it.

"Frankly speaking, I think it is very bad as it could cause some guys, especially the younger ones, to do something they would regret," he said.

"Most guys at university, if not all, have visited pornographic websites or bought and watched pornographic movies once in a while.

"A few female classmates have also done the same thing, but they're less likely to admit it."

Fu said such websites were changing the ethical standards of his generation in a negative way.

Lack of proper sex education

"Not that we should assume every child is doing this," said Zhang Huaizhi, 60, a retired middle school teacher.

"But many youngsters are induced by obscene material, which is unhealthy for their personal growth.

"Even worse, it could lead to some unbalanced people committing sexual crimes."

He says society should look into the issue of starting sex education at an earlier age, but not just because cyber pornography is becoming a problem.

"We should realize that the ultimate dilemma lies in the fact that there is no adequate sex education for them."

When it comes to sex, teens have always rely on their parents and schools for necessary savvy.

"But the majority of parents never have a conversation with their children about sex and a high school education seldom gives them adequate information about reproductive biology," Zhang said.

You Daoming, the father of 17-year-old boy, admitted: "I don't have the confidence to engage in such a discussion with my child. I expect such an education from school."

Unfortunately, the schools feel the same way and place all of the responsibility on the parents.

Education expert Jin Xuefang said in a public cyber chat on Xinhuanet, the official website of the Xinhua News Agency, that the lack of a sex education leaves children on their own, which means they may find themselves surfing the Net and having intercourse before they are ready.

Many of them are seeking a straightforward, simple and practical sex education and pornographic websites become their first choice.

Experts have advised parents to set limits on Internet surfing at home by using filtering systems, which come in the form of blocking software which is available at office supply stores at a reasonable price.

The software can filter specific sites, and websites with pornographic content.

However, filters will not block all obscene material, said Cao Jian, a web-technician in Beijing, who warned parents against thinking that filter software was a panacea.

Experts say precautionary measures are necessary for teens, including checking them while online, reading what they write and receive, knowing their screen name and requiring them to identify their "buddy list."

And another way for parents is to help their children develop a healthy interest while themselves taking full advantage of the informative and colourful world that modern technology created.

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