A Cape Town woman who kidnapped a newborn baby and raised her for 17 years, before the girl bumped into her biological sister at school, has been sentenced to 10 years jail.
The kidnapped child, named by her birth family as Zephany Nurse, was taken from her sleeping mother’s bedside in 1997. Her kidnapper, a 52-year-old seamstress who has not been named, raised the child as her own.
The Nurse family lived just 2km from their daughter, celebrating her birthday every year and never giving up hope of finding her.
The girl’s identity was revealed in February 2015 when her younger biological sister began attending the same secondary school. Pupils were struck by the two students’ resemblance, and the girls became close friends.
South African media reported the girls’ biological parents arranged to watch the sisters eating burgers in McDonald’s. Struck by the physical similarities, they contacted authorities and DNA tests confirmed Zephany was their long-lost daughter. The woman who raised her was arrested.
She was found guilty in March of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children’s Act. She claimed she had not been at the hospital on the day Zephany was kidnapped.
She said she was handed the baby at a busy railway station by a woman called Sylvia, who had been giving her fertility treatment after multiple miscarriages.
The kidnapper (whose name has been withheld to avoid identifying Zephany) described being abandoned by her mother and raped as a child, as well as miscarrying after beatings from a series of boyfriends.
She said the years raising the girl had been “the happiest of her life”.
“The Lord knows why He placed her in my arms … I thank Him for the 17 years and 10 months I had with her.
“She brought me so much joy. I will never forget it … I love her and if she wants me, I will always be in her life,” she told the court.
Mark Steyn, a clinical psychologist who had examined the kidnapper, said she did not believe she had committed an offence by stealing the baby, and felt “she had loved and been a good mother to [Zephany]”.
Evidence indicated the woman had repeatedly entered the maternity ward and made several attempts to take a baby before snatching Zephany. A witness identified her at an identity parade almost 20 years later.
Celeste Nurse, Zephany’s biological mother, described how, aged 18, she woke up to find her three-day-old baby had vanished from her cot.
“We ran everywhere in the hospital. The baby was nowhere to be found. Missing. Gone,” the 36-year-old said at the trial.
After the kidnapper’s arrest, social services placed Zephany with her biological parents and siblings. According to local media she has chosen to move back to the home where she grew up and not bonded with her biological family.
The teenager issued a statement earlier this year saying: “Don’t you think for once that that is my mother? Whether it is true or not is not for you to toy with.”
There were emotional scenes at the courthouse today as relatives of the convicted woman abused the Nurse family and shouted that Zephany would always belong to them.
Morné Nurse, the girl’s biological father, welcomed the sentence, saying he was looking forward to building a relationship with his daughter.
South African media carries frequent reports of trafficking of infants and children. Human trafficking carries a maximum penalty of life or a fine of $A1m, $NZ1.04m.