China's Battle Against Cyberbullying and Mental Health Crisis

China is launching a nationwide campaign against campus and cyberbullying to tackle mental health issues among youth.

China's Battle Against Cyberbullying and Mental Health Crisis
Flat Screen Computer Monitors on Table, by Kaur Kristjan, via Unsplash, 2017 December

13-05-2024

Marina Sáenz

South East Asia Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

In response to a harrowing surge in suicide rates among China's youth, the nation has launched a sweeping campaign against campus bullying, underscoring a heightened focus on safeguarding the mental well-being of minors. Startling statistics reveal a distressing reality: from 2010 to 2021, the annual suicide rate among children aged five to 14 skyrocketed by nearly 10 percent, as reported by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While a brief respite was observed among individuals aged 15 to 24 until 2017, the subsequent four years witnessed a devastating 20 percent increase in suicides within this age group. Amidst this grim backdrop, the insidious influence of cyberbullying casts a dark shadow, exacerbating the mental health crisis gripping the nation's youth. As digital platforms become breeding grounds for harassment and intimidation, the very fabric of safety and security is threatened, compelling China to confront the pernicious effects of online abuse with equal urgency and resolve.

In response to the escalating crisis, in April 2024 China embarked on a comprehensive nationwide initiative to combat campus bullying and fortify the mental resilience of its youth. The Ministry of Education vows to educate students, teachers, and parents on laws pertaining to bullying while implementing enhanced disciplinary measures and accountability mechanisms. With a steadfast commitment to eradicating the scourge of student bullying, the Ministry has initiated thorough investigations across primary and secondary schools to identify and mitigate potential risks. Moreover, a concerted effort is underway to foster the psychological well-being of pupils, with an emphasis on establishing a robust system for monitoring their mental health and enhancing collaboration between educational institutions and healthcare facilities.

Furthermore, recognising the insidious threat posed by cyberbullying, China has taken action to curb online harassment and protect the dignity of its citizens. In 2023, the nation's top legal bodies, including the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security, unveiled a set of stringent guidelines targeting cyber violence. These guidelines delineate severe penalties for perpetrators engaged in a range of malicious behaviours, from bullying minors and disabled people, to fabricating damaging rumours and exploiting deep-fake technology for nefarious purposes. Notably, law enforcement bodies are empowered to pursue criminal charges against individuals whose online actions are deemed to seriously endanger civil rights, particularly in cases where victims suffer mental distress or tragic outcomes such as suicide. While these measures signal an intensified crackdown on cyberbullying, China's legal framework has long included provisions to address online harassment, underscoring the nation's unwavering commitment to protecting civil rights in the digital realm. Moreover, China has implemented stringent regulations aimed at holding online service providers accountable for preventing severe incidents on their platforms, including instances resulting in loss of life. This includes fines of up to 200,000 yuan (approximately 25,643 euros)  and operational suspensions, on negligent service providers. By imposing stringent consequences for lapses in platform oversight, China aims to create a safer digital environment conducive to fostering healthy interactions and preserving human dignity.

Moreover, in response to the pervasive mental health crisis afflicting China's youth, the nation has taken decisive action by enacting a comprehensive set of regulations specifically aimed at safeguarding minors in the digital realm. Issued by the State Council, this landmark regulatory document consists of 60 articles spread across seven chapters, signalling a concerted effort to address the multifaceted challenges faced by young individuals online. Effective as of January 1st, 2024, these regulations are designed to foster a nurturing online environment conducive to the well-being of minors, while also ensuring the protection of their rights and interests. By providing a robust legal framework, China seeks to empower minors and their guardians with the tools needed to navigate the complexities of cyberspace safely and confidently.

With its concerted crackdown on cyberbullying and campus harassment, China is placing paramount emphasis on safeguarding the civil rights of its citizens, preserving dignity, and protecting the rights of children. This proactive stance aligns with international human rights standards, particularly those outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which China has signed but not ratified, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Provisions within the ICCPR, such as Article 17 which enshrines the right to privacy, are violated by cyberbullying, as individuals are subjected to invasive and harmful online attacks. Similarly, the ICESCR guarantees the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, with cyberbullying exacerbating psychological distress and impeding individuals' enjoyment of this right. Additionally, the CRC mandates protection from all forms of violence, including cyberbullying, ensuring children's right to a safe and nurturing environment conducive to their overall well-being. By addressing these specific provisions, China's efforts to combat cyberbullying underscore its commitment to upholding human rights principles and fostering a society where every individual's dignity and rights are respected and protected.

In the wake of China's resolute efforts to combat cyberbullying and protect the well-being of its youth, a resounding call to action reverberates beyond its borders. The challenges faced by China are not unique; they are emblematic of a global crisis where the mental health of our youth hangs in the balance. Governments worldwide must heed this clarion call, recognising that the protection of civil rights, dignity, and children's rights is not just a moral imperative but a legal obligation under international human rights law.

Sources and further reading:

Jenny Feng. (23 September 2023). Cyberbullying trial tests China’s determination to fight online abuse. The China Project. Accessed 13 May 2024. https://thechinaproject.com/2023/09/26/cyberbullying-trial-tests-chinas-determination-to-fight-online-abuse/

Zhao Zi Wen. (28 April 2024). Mental health in focus as China vows crackdown on school bullies amid rising underage crime, suicide rates. South China Morning Post. Accessed 13 May 2024. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3260634/mental-health-focus-china-vows-crackdown-school-bullies-amid-rising-underage-crime-suicide-rates

Xu Cen and Ni Dandan. (28 October 2023). As Cyberbullying Persists, China Seeks Remedies in Law and Tech. Sixth Tone. Accessed 13 May 2024. https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1013973

Phoebe Zhang. (28 November 2023). How China is using the law to tackle cyberbullying and Internet violence.  The Star. Accessed 13 May 2024. https://www.thestar.com.my/tech/tech-news/2023/11/28/how-china-is-using-the-law-to-tackle-cyberbullying-and-internet-violence

XingHua. (24 October 2023). China releases regulations to protect minors in cyberspace. The State Council the People’s Republic of China. Accessed 13 May 2024. https://english.www.gov.cn/policies/latestreleases/202310/24/content_WS6537a5d2c6d0868f4e8e095e.html

Australian Human Rights Commission. Cyberbullying, Human rights and bystanders. Accessed 13 May 2024. https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/commission-general/cyberbullying-human-rights-and-bystanders-0#fn17