Japan to introduce internet 'fasting camps' for addicted kids

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By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

More than 500,000 Japanese children between the ages of 12 and 18 are believed to be addicted to the internet, although the ministry of education here says it is difficult to get accurate figures on the scale of the problem.

"It's becoming more and more of a problem," Akifumi Sekine, a spokesman for the ministry, told The Daily Telegraph. "We estimate this affects around 518,000 children at middle and high schools across Japan, but that figure is rising and there could be far more cases because we don't know about them all."

The ministry is planning a comprehensive research project into internet addiction in the next fiscal year and has asked the government to fund immersion programmes designed to get children away from their computers, mobile phones and hand-held game devices.

"We want to get them out of the virtual world and to encourage them to have real communication with other children and adults," Mr Sekine said.

The ministry is proposing to hold "fasting" camps at outdoor learning centres and other public facilities where children will have no access to the Internet.

The youngsters will be encouraged to take part in outdoor activities, team sports and games, with psychiatrists and clinical psychotherapists on hand to provide counselling should the transition back into the real world prove too traumatic.

Internet addiction is blamed for sleep and eating disorders in growing numbers of young people in Japan , while extreme cases have led to symptoms of depression and deep vein thrombosis, more commonly associated with passengers in cramped conditions on long-haul flights.

Studies suggest that an obsession with online activities is also having an impact on children's school performances.