A Series of Children Suicides Stirs Society and State Govt
At least three children have allegedly committed suicide due to addiction to online gaming in Madhya Pradesh within the course of a year and have caused a stir in society. In response, the state government has decided to abandon its decade-long passive legal stance on gambling and bring forth a law to regulate online gaming.
The most recent suicide case is from January 2022 when 11-year old boy Suryant Ojha hanged himself on a punching bag rope in his home in the Shankaracharya colony in Bhopal. Reportedly, the boy had spent ₹6,000 on an online game without the permission of his parents, who had then deleted the app.
“Online games are a serious issue. To prevent such tragic incidents, we are bringing an act regulating online gaming in Madhya Pradesh, whose draft has been prepared and we will soon finalise it,” said the state’s Home Minister Narottam Mishra commenting on the tragic incident.
What Does it Mean to Regulate Online Gaming?
Reportedly, the new Madhya Pradesh law will criminalise online gaming, gambling, and betting, and will ban websites and apps that host addictive games. The creation and operation of online games that are harmful to children will be punished by prison time and a financial penalty. This is more of a prohibition approach, rather than an act to regulate online gaming, regardless of Home Minister Mishra’s words about regulation.
The reported MP approach is similar to the blanket bans imposed on online gaming by several other states which led to Kerala lifting its online rummy ban after a ruling by the state’s high court, followed by a verdict of the High Court of Madras that declared Tamil Nadu’s gaming ban unconstitutional. Karnataka was the next state to prohibit online gaming, and litigation on the ban’s validity is pending at the corresponding high court.
The states’ failure to properly deal with the issues related to the social cost of online gaming and gambling was addressed by MP Sushil Kumar Modi in a submission at the Rajya Sabha and written publications where he urged the Central Government for a national-level regulation on gaming.
Central regulation and a licensing regime imposing sound responsible online gambling and gaming practices on platforms can significantly lower social costs including protection against problem gaming, addictions and suicides, excessive financial losses, and mal-practising operators.
Particularly keen attention should be paid to children’s gaming, where it is necessary to implement an age-rating system for games together with Aadhaar-based age-verification standards so that children only play games suitable to their age and in-app purchases will not be possible without parental consent.
Regulation Is Indeed the Need of the Hour
The series of alleged suicides by children over gaming addictions call for urgent regulative measures. Previously, a 13-year old boy ended his life in July 2021 in Chhatarpur after spending ₹40,000 from his mother’s UPI account on the online game Free Fire. “Sorry Ma, please don’t cry,” the boy wrote on the suicide note he left behind.
After the tragic incident, MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan voiced his concern over suicides caused by online gaming and directed the creation of a mechanism that could keep such games in check. The introduction of an online gaming license India system could be such a mechanism.
In January 2021, a 12-year old boy from the census town of Dhana, Sagar District, took his own life after his father took away his mobile phone because the boy was spending too much time on it playing Free Fire.