As part of a campaign to protect women from crime, India's telecommunications ministry has announced that every mobile phone sold in the country from 2017 onwards must include a panic button.

Once the rule comes into effect in January next year, holding down the '5' or '9' key on a regular phone will alert "police and designated friends/relatives for immediate response in case of distress or security related issues." On smartphones, the feature will be activated by pressing the power button three times. All manufacturers, including industry giants such as Apple and Samsung, will need to include the panic button on any new devices sold in the country.

Anyone with a phone sold before January 2017 will be able to take them to service centers where they will be upgraded with the panic button function.

Additionally, from January 2018, all new phones will be required to have GPS capabilities as a way of locating the person activating the alarm.

"Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women?" said Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology.

The decision follows an increasing number of high-profile instances of crimes against women in the country. India has an average of four rapes per hour and one of the lowest police-to-citizen ratios in the world.

India is the world's second-biggest mobile phone market, with over 1 billion users in the country. But, as noted by Reuters, in many rural areas it is the men who decide who gets to use them. Several villages recently banned girls and single women from owning mobile phones in the western state of Gujarat, saying the devices distracted them from their studies.

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