An increasing number of prisoners are applying to be treated as juveniles at the Tihar prison ever since an accused in the brutal December 16 Delhi gangrape was declared a minor by the Juvenile Justice Board.
Juveniles are not tried before regular courts and given much lesser punishment under the Juvenile Justice Act even if they have committed heinous crimes.
Last year, as many as 273 Tihar inmates were shifted to juvenile homes after they were found to be minors. In 2011, the number was approximately 150.
In January, the number of inmates shifted has almost doubled as compared to December.
"As per our record, only six prisoners were shifted to juvenile homes between December 1 and 25. However, in the past 36 days, the number went up to 19, which is significantly high. The number may go up further in the coming days as a number of prisoners have applied but it takes time for it to be processed," said a Tihar jail official, requesting anonymity.
"After they came to know how a gang rape accused could walk out with milder punishment by virtue of being a juvenile, a number of prisoners have approached us, claiming to be juvenile at the time of committing the crime," added the official.
A number of juveniles who were shifted to shelter homes last year from the prison were involved in crimes against women, and many others were arrested on charges of theft, murder, dacoity and sodomy.
However, Tihar authorities maintained that they forward only "genuine applications" for consideration.
Tihar authorities said the number of prisoners approaching them claiming to be juveniles has doubled after the December 16 gang rape case. While on an average 10 prisoners used to approach the jail authorities every day, the number has reached almost 25 in the past 30 days.
"We following the guidelines and carry out regular checks. Our team of doctors examines each inmate. If the doctor is of the view that the inmate appears to be below 18 years, we inform the concerned trial court," said Sunil Gupta, Tihar Jail spokesperson said. To ascertain the age of an inmate, either the school records are verified or a bone ossification test is conducted.