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Tuesday 15 March 2016 | Published in Regional


MOUNT HAGEN – A baby girl in Papua New Guinea has spent the past 14 months of her life in jail because her mother is a prisoner at Baisu jail, near Mount Hagen, in the Western Highlands Province.

In a situation reminiscent of the award-winning movie Room, the dreary prison, with its locked cells, barbed wire fence and ever-present uniformed guards is the only world the child, Sherlin, has known in her infancy.

Little does the infant know of the real world is outside her confines. And she has some time to wait to find out what exists beyond the prison’s perimeter fence.

She will only get to see the outside world when she turns three – in about one-and-a-half years time – when the mother completes her sentence.

She accompanied her mother to jail when she was two months old.

Melinda Alus from Kompiam district in Enga Province, was jailed after being found guilty of committing an offence against another woman who was also married to her husband.

Alus said no one offered to look after her baby when she was convicted and she was left with no choice but to take 10-week-old Sherlin to jail with her.

“Other women prisoners helped me look after my daughter when we went to prison,” Alus said. “Now she is a big girl and she is familiar with the prison environment.”

Alus recalls her initial fears when she first went to jail and the uncertainty coupled with confusion as to how to raise a fragile little baby in such a harsh environment.

“But the prisoners and the correctional officers in Baisu were so helpful and supportive in bringing my daughter up,” the mother said.

Over time her fears dissipated as she adapted to prison life and the limited privileges mothers with babies have and make do with.

According to fellow prisoners, little Sherlin rides on her mother’s back all the time and participate in all prison activities.

Thankfully the natural maternal instincts of the mother and her sister prisoners have contributed to the upbringing of little Sherlin.

The upside of such an unusal upbringing for a little child is that Merlin’s is totally “spoilt” by everyone around her.

The movie Room is a the adaption of 2010 novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue.

The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, Jack, who is being held captive in a small room – a backyard shed – along with his mother who was abducted before he was born.

Jack grows up to believe that the room they are trapped is the real world and nothing else truly exists.

- PNC/post-Courier