By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A state in western India has launched a mobile app for people to report child abuse, in an effort to protect children after a series of abuses came to light.
The Maharashtra State Child Rights Protection Commission on Wednesday launched the Child Helpline for Information on Rights and Address Grievances (Chirag), a mobile application for Android phones that also provides information on children's rights, including legislation.
"Nowadays, every other person uses a smartphone and downloads applications," Pankaja Munde, Maharashtra state minister for women and child welfare, told reporters.
"Chirag will enable people to reach out to the commission and save children from abuse."
Registering a complaint on the app will send an email to the commission, which will direct it to police or a child-rights charity. A statewide campaign is being rolled out to create awareness in schools, offices and elsewhere, Munde said.
Officials in Maharashtra, one of India's wealthiest states, said earlier this week they had set up a special investigation team to look into allegations of sexual abuse of at least 12 girls at a boarding school for tribal children.
That came on the heels of an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission into the deaths of more than 700 indigenous children in the past decade in state-run schools in Maharashtra.
India is the world's second biggest market for mobile phones, with more than 1 billion users. Use of smartphones is increasing on the back of rising incomes.
Earlier this year, India's only toll-free emergency helpline for street children and children in distress unveiled kiosks with touch-screen technology to replace disappearing public telephone booths.
A total of 94,172 crimes against children were recorded last year, according to official data, marginally higher than the previous year. Many more crimes go unreported, activists say.
The mobile app can help increase awareness and take the message of children's rights further, said Sanjay Macwan, field office director at the International Justice Mission, the rights group that helped develop the app.
"The app puts promotion, protection and preservation of child rights in peoples' hands," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Rights issues can be dry, hard to understand. The app makes it easy to grasp and accessible to anyone with a phone."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)