More and more internet users from Bangladesh are searching for 'Blue Whale Online Challenge', a 'game' that incites its participants to kill themselves.
Bangladesh has ranked third among countries from where people are looking for the bizzare 'game', Google Trend report data from last 12 months show. The country has seen a 47% surge in search during this period.
Pakistan tops the list, followed by Mauritius, while India is in fourth position and Nepal in fifth.
In Bangladesh, people mostly from Barisal division searched for the challenges in Google, Google data from the last 30 days show.
Vulnerable people, aged between 12 to 22, suffering from frustration and depression, appear to be the target group of the 'game'.
Players are given a number of tasks over a period of 50 days by a curator. The final “challenge” is to take their own lives.
Philipp Budeikin, one of the men behind the so-called Blue Whale Challenge, pleaded guilty before a Russian court in May to inciting at least 16 teenagers to suicide by taking part in the 'game'.
He had described the victims as “biological wastes” and claimed he was “cleansing the society”.
Experts say vulnerable people, mostly teenagers, are looking for the 'game' online. Search for the challenges has increased gradually over the last two months.
A Bangladeshi psychiatrist said several families had consulted him after their children looked for Blue Whale Challenge.
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Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) officials say they have blocked links to the 'game' to prevent anyone from the country access it.
Zunaid Ahmed Palak, the state minister for ICT, has asked people to remain cautious after methods of playing the challenges had gone viral.
At least 130 children and teenagers have killed themselves in Russia, allegedly after taking up the challenges, with many more suicides reported in Asia, North America, Europe and South America between November 2015 and April 2016.
An Indian newspaper reported the suicide of a 14-year-old boy in July, claiming that it was the result of playing the 'game'. No Blue Whale-related death has been reported in Bangladesh yet.
The title of the game is widely believed to be a reference to incidents of blue whales apparently stranding themselves on beaches that eventually cause their death.
Although the suicide of Apurba Bardhan Shorna, a grade VIII student of Holy Cross School, was initially thought to be a result of taking up the challenges, her aunt Keya Chowdhury Jui said it was not the case.
BTRC said although they have blocked links to the 'game', the challenges are available online in text format.
A 14-year-old boy from Dhaka's Mirpur said he tried to take his life by consuming a large amount of sleeping pills to clear the final stage. He is being treated at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Professor Md Tazul Islam of the National Institute of Mental Health said he had been approached by many parents in the last two months. “Their children told them they were playing Blue Whale,” he said.
A girl and a boy, whose names have been withheld to protect their identities, have been admitted to NIMH. They said they were frustrated and claimed to have completed 20 stages. “Their parents contacted me for their treatment,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
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Tazul said he was approached by another family for treating a young man who had completed 22 stages and later informed his family about his ordeal.
State Minister Palak said the government was constantly monitoring the spread of links to the 'game'.
“We are trying to block as many links as possible to prevent anyone from Bangladesh access them. The ICT Division is working with BTRC and intelligence agencies,” he said.
Last week, police detained a Chittagong University student, who had downloaded the game on his mobile phone and claimed to have cleared four levels “out of curiosity”.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on October 9 said the BTRC had been asked to investigate whether anyone in Bangladesh committed suicide after playing Blue Whale Challenge.
He said he had asked BTRC to check if Holy Cross student Shorna's suicide was influenced by the 'game' and whether anyone else in Bangladesh played it.
On Tuesday, the BTRC advised parents to raise awareness among children about harmful mobile or online games. It has also asked parents to call 2872
during office hours to report links to the 'game'.