Kyrgyzstan has no official statistics regarding children who attend game clubs instead of school. However, psychologists and activists say parents seek their help to deal with the gaming addiction among schoolchildren.
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This year, 13-year-old Azamat (not his real name) is the sixth-grade student. He spent his summer holidays without gadgets or computer. Anara (not her real name), Azamat’s mother, sent the teenager to the village of Baitik to help relatives with the household. In her opinion, this is the best option after an unpleasant story, whose consequences sometimes arise.
“This spring, the my son’s class teacher called me and said he didn’t attend lessons for two months already and she suspected he was squeezing money from primary school pupils. Of course, I didn’t believe her. My Azamat cannot squeeze money and skip lessons!” Anara said.
They started to explore the situation in detail and found out that Azamat was not seen at school for a long time. Instead, he was a regular visitor of the computer club across the road from school. The teenager actually squeezed money from primary schoolchildren and spent it on computer games.
“Then I went to the computer club and the administrator told me Azamat was their regular customer. Sometimes he came without money and paid with sundries, which he apparently stole from the nearest farm market. He brought deodorants, soap, tea. He is my only child and I am raising him alone, with no help from others,” Anara complained.
Azamat was registered with the juvenile delinquents’ department as a “blackmailer”, and the class teacher sent him to a school psychologist for consultation. Then they talked to Anara and told her that her son was a games addict, and visits to computer club were his addiction.
“They told me it would end very badly if we do nothing. But the school psychologist didn’t tell me what to do. He said only, “don’t let him sit on computer”, “pay attention to his studies”. How can I do that if I am at work all the time? If I don’t work, we will have nothing to eat! So I had to send him to my sister to a village for summer, and I don’t know what to do now. Azamat said it won’t happen again, but still asks for a permission to go to the computer club,” Anara said.
Gaming disorder recognised as disease
This May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised “gaming disorder” as a disease and added it to the International Statistical Classification of diseases and related health problems. The new version should become effective on January 2022.
The description of the disease is as follows: “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” According to new criteria, a person with a gaming disorder gives priority to games other than other life interests.
Psychologist Ildar Akbutin thinks one of the reasons of the disorder is that parents give a phone to their child themselves to have some free time. Due to the vivid animation and appealing content, children shift very quickly to this electronic substitute of love.
According to Akbutin, the more underlying reason can be the lack of parental love in childhood, regardless of whether they give them a gadget or not. According to him, if the child doesn’t form a reliable positive affiliation to the parent, they would have a deep feeling of loneliness and worthlessness. This, in turn, will set the scene for the addiction, which the child would in future compensate through games, alcohol, overeating, or drugs.
“In my practice, mothers of boys aged 9-18 seek my advice most often. Adult men don’t come to me, their wives or mothers raise the alarm instead. This is the most generalised image as other parameters vary a lot. I should emphasise that if a child doesn’t want to get rid of this problem, you can hardly help him,” psychologist said.
He noted that once you restrict children’s access to gaming, you should give them something instead. For example, talk with them about subjects that are interesting for them, find other hobbies or activities. If nothing helps, you should seek therapy.
“The point of the therapy, in short, is to have the client stop replacing his painful feeling with games and help him cope with this feeling. The therapist should help him realise that mother won’t ever fill the vacuum in his soul. And no one will but the client. But to realise it, he should stop resisting, which can be painful and unpleasant sometimes and which can lead the addict to the source of his addiction,” Akbutin said.
No statistics – no problem
Kyrgyzstan has no official statistics regarding children who have a gaming disorder. Once there is no statistics, the exact scope of the problem is unknown, not to speak of its solution.
The Interior Ministry of the Kyrgyz Republic reported that since the start of 2019, over 800 raids were carried out to detect minor beggars, blackmailers (school racketeering), who were also found in computer clubs at night time unattended. There is no information about the raids carried out in daytime to detect “skippers”. If a child attends a game club during day and skips lessons, the law enforcement bodies cannot take legal measures to them.
55 cases of school racketeering were reported in Kyrgyzstan since early 2019. Among other regions of the republic, the capital, Bishkek, leads the way with 37 cases of money squeezing.
The interior ministry registers only those teenagers who commit any offences or antisocial actions, for example, drink alcohol drinks.
The general statistics of the youth liaison office of public security service [IDN SOB] of interior ministry regarding minors registered in 7 months of 2019 is as follows: 2,989 minors have been registered, including 2,441 boys and 548 girls. If we look at the data for the last 5 years, we’ll see the changes in this indicator.
According to law enforcement officers, the increase in 2016-2017 can be explained by the shortage of young liaison officers, as well as child counsellors. Therefore, preventive measures were not taken regularly.
Why use a sledgehammer to crack a nut?
Back in January 2018, the Bishkek City Kenesh (BGK) considered the issue of leverages used on the owners of computer clubs, where schoolchildren are regular customers. They suggested restricting access to minors to such clubs at night time.
Chairman of BGK Zhanybek Abirov recognised the fact the problem was not solved. Back in 2018, a deputy suggested banning computer clubs, just like casinos that were banned in the past. However, the initiative was not supported.
“District-level administrations carry out regular raids to detect minors in computer clubs during daytime. However, these measures are not enough. This problem will be raised again in BGK, but to enact a regulation, this problem needs to be analysed by the Ministry of Economy in terms of regulatory enforcement because the closure of computer clubs will affect business activities,” Abirov said.
However, the operations of internet cafes have not been banned or restricted so far. Political analyst Denis Berdakov said it was good because closure of any legal economic entity would be an alarming sign for any state.
“Full closure of computer clubs in order to counter gaming addiction among children is an exaggerated measure. It’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. If we close all clubs, people would sit at home and play on their phones, etc. As a last resort, we can somehow restrict access of children to computer clubs according to agreements between schools and nearest computer clubs,” Berdakov said.
According to him, in terms of economy, computer clubs in Kyrgyzstan don’t pay so many taxes, and their closure won’t affect the business environment in Kyrgyzstan. However, what’s important here is the trend – governmental non-interference.
The Kyrgyz NGO Child’s Rights Defenders League led by Nazgul Turdubekova regularly helps children in hardship, including those who skip school and leave home. About 10 families seek their help in one year. They take complex measures, i.e. they try to involve all family members.
According to Turdubekova, there were some cases when children were strongly addicted to video games. They take complex measures towards such children: they appoint regular visits to psychologist, offer some options as out-of-school activities. Moreover, they talk to parents.
However, every case is special, so they don’t have any certain therapy programme – it all depends on the situation.
“Based on our practice, I’d like to emphasise that the gaming addiction among children has nothing to do with the material welfare in a family. Children from better-off families are also addicted to games, and their parents feel at a loss when they face this problem due to the lack of knowledge. A child usually behaves aggressively and parents let him sit on computer just not to let him run away from home,” Turdubekova said.
According to her, more attention should be paid to a child in order to prevent gaming disorder. Preventive classes should be held at schools to explain the culture of computer usage.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.