, Cape Town, South Africa, Aug 15 – A South African court on Monday jailed a woman for 10 years for kidnapping a newborn baby and raising her as her own, before an astonishing coincidence reunited the girl with her biological family.
The baby girl, named Zephany Nurse by her birth family, was taken from her sleeping mother at a maternity ward at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in 1997.
Her kidnapper, now 52, raised her for 17 years in a case that has attracted huge media interest in South Africa.
The girl’s real identity only came to light in February 2015, when her younger biological sister began attending high school and pupils pointed out her remarkable likeness to a final-year student.
Eric Ntabazalila, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for the kidnapper, who cannot be named to protect her victim’s identity.
“She gets 10 years’ direct imprisonment. We are happy with that,” said Ntabazalila.
“You cannot go out and steal a child and expect that the society will accept that, or the courts will accept that, or the general public will accept that,” he added.
“It’s wrong, it’s a crime.”
The Nurse family had been living within a couple of kilometres of their kidnapped daughter, while celebrating her birthday every year and never giving up hope of finding her.
Once their other daughter told her parents that another pupil at school looked just like her, they went to meet the older girl and immediately thought she could be their long-lost child.
DNA tests confirmed she was indeed Zephany, leading to the arrest of the woman who had claimed for nearly two decades to be her mother.
Handing down the 10-year sentence, a High Court judge in Cape Town said the woman’s crime was premeditated and too serious not to warrant jail time, South Africa’s News24 said.
– Dad wants time to bond –
Zephany, who is now pregnant, was raised under a different name and has shunned the media spotlight on the case.
The teenager was sent to a place of safety after the kidnapper’s arrest.
But she has opted to move back to the home where she lived before, and has not formed any bond with her biological family.
Her biological father, Morne Nurse, welcomed the sentence, saying he was looking forward to building a relationship with his daughter.
“It’s actually made me tired, it’s made me sick completely,” he told AFP outside court.
“I couldn’t sleep for nights. I couldn’t even eat properly. So the way forward is to build my relationship with my daughter, and that’s it.”
During the trial Zephany’s biological mother, Celeste Nurse, wept as she described how at the age of 18 she woke up in the maternity ward to find her three-day-old baby had vanished from her cot.
Members of both families have sometimes traded bitter insults outside court, at hearings that have attracted heavy media attention.
The kidnapper was on March 10 found guilty of kidnapping, fraud, and contravening the Children’s Act.
She pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintained in her testimony that she had not been at Groote Schuur Hospital on the day the baby was kidnapped.
She testified that she had been given the baby by a woman who had been giving her fertility treatment after she had a miscarriage in 1997.
Zephany’s grandmother Zephra Nurse said the outcome of the case would “tell people to stop abducting and kidnapping children”, and confirmed that her granddaughter was pregnant.