India makes panic button a must for all mobile phones from next year amid high rate of sex crimes

A customer speaks to an employee at a mobile phone store in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, April 24, 2016.
A customer speaks to an employee at a mobile phone store in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, April 24, 2016.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW DELHI (AFP) - All mobile phones sold in India will have to have a panic button from the start of next year, an official said on Tuesday (April 26), as the country grapples with large numbers of sex crimes against women.

The button would allow users to call emergency services by pressing a single key on their phone, a telecommunications ministry official told AFP.

"No cell phones can be sold without the provision for panic button from Jan 1, 2017," he said, requesting anonymity.

The ministry said it was also making inbuilt GPS compulsory from Jan 1, 2018.

"Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women," Telecoms Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said late on Monday.

India has struggled to curb high levels of sexual violence, a problem that shot to global prominence with the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi in December 2012 as she returned home from the cinema.

That incident led to an overhaul of India's rape laws including speeding up of trials and tougher penalties for offenders, but high numbers of assaults persist.

The latest official figures show 36,735 rapes were reported across the country in 2014, although activists say the actual number is likely much higher with many crimes going unreported due to the social stigma they attract.

India is the world's second-largest mobile market and notched up its billionth mobile phone subscriber in October, according to the country's telecoms regulator.