Rules allow those below six years of age to live in their parents’ cells, prison officials accept that often some stay on until they are much older because they have nowhere else to go.

At the moment Bihar’s jails have 1,340 women inmates, either awaiting trial—which may take years—or convicted of crimes, including murder. Twenty per cent of these women have children living in jail. The inmates, say jail officials, are wracked by guilt.

Not surprisingly then, some like Meena Devi, Kalawati and Sunita Devi of Beur jail have refused to name their children as they see it as a bad omen. Two of them call their daughters Bachchi while a third has temporarily named her’s Susti (laziness). They say the girls will have proper names once they are out of prison.

In neighbouring Jharkhand, as many as 141 children share jail cells with 703 women. There are also cases of men, after allegedly killing their wives, have landed in jails with their children. According to a state prison official, it is men of this kind who face the most difficulty in raising their children.

The governments in both states have now ordered prison authorities to help the children in prison grow up in as normal circumstances as is possible.

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