South African court jails woman who kidnapped and raised newborn | News | DW | 15.08.2016
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South African court jails woman who kidnapped and raised newborn

In sentencing the convicted kidnapper, the judge noted that the defendant continued to lie about the baby's origins. But the victim has had little contact with her biological parents after their initial meetings.

Celeste Nurse hugs a family member outside the court house after the court ruling.

Celeste Nurse hugs a family member outside the court house after the court ruling

A South African woman who kidnapped a three-day-old baby from a hospital bed and raised the daughter as her own has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case that has riveted the country for more than a year.

The baby known as Zephany Nurse - the name given to her at birth, by her biological parents - was taken from her sleeping mother's bedside in a Cape Town hospital's maternity ward in 1997. Celeste Nurse awoke to find her baby gone.

It was only through a remarkable coincidence that the true identity of the now 19-year-old woman became known.

Cassidy Nurse, who would turn out to be Zephany's younger sister, enrolled in a new high school in 2015 and people immediately noticed a striking resemblance between the two.

A DNA test subsequently proved that Zephany, who was given a new name by the parents who raised her, had not been raised by her biological parents. A judge ruled that Zephany's adopted name, and that of the couple who raised her, be kept confidential in order to protect her privacy.

In sentencing the 52-year-old kidnapper in Cape Town, Judge John Hlophe told the defendant she had caused "immense" pain to the biological parents whose baby was taken from them.

Hlophe criticized the kidnapper for sticking to her story that she had bought the baby from a woman who told her that the biological parents did not want the child.

Morne Nurse (C), the biological father of Zephany Nurse, stands before the news cameras after court ruling.

Morne Nurse (C), the biological father of Zephany Nurse

"At the very least, one would expect you to apologize," the judge told her, "but you chose not to."

So close, yet so far

Ironically, Zephany was raised just a mile or so from her biological family, who celebrated her birthday every year and never gave up hope of finding her.

When their younger daughter told them that students at school said she looked just like Zephany, Celeste and her husband Morne Nurse went to meet the older girl and immediately thought she could be their long-lost daughter.

Subsequently, Zephany has had little contact with her biological parents. She is now said to be pregnant and living in the home of her adopted father.

Eric Ntabazalila, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for the kidnapper.

"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."

bik/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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