CAPE TOWN • A South African court has given a 10-year prison term to a woman who kidnapped a newborn baby and raised her for 17 years, before an astonishing coincidence reunited the girl with her biological family.
The kidnapping victim, who was named by her birth family as Zephany Nurse, was taken from her sleeping mother at a maternity ward at Groote Schuur Hospital in 1997. Her kidnapper, now 52, raised her as her own.
The girl's real identity came to light only in February last year when her younger biological sister began attending high school and pupils pointed out her remarkable likeness to a final-year student.
The younger girl told her parents, who met the older girl and immediately thought she could be their long-lost child.
The Nurse family had lived within a couple of kilometres of their kidnapped daughter, celebrating her birthday every year and never giving up hope of finding her.
DNA tests confirmed that the girl was indeed the family's long-lost child, leading to the arrest of the jailed woman, who cannot be named to protect Zephany's true identity.
The kidnapper was on March 10 found guilty of kidnapping, fraud, and contravening South Africa's Children's Act despite maintaining throughout the case 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.
During the trial, Zephany's biological mother Celeste Nurse wept as she told how, at the age of 18, she had woken up in the hospital to find that her three-day-old baby had vanished.
In delivering the 10-year sentence yesterday, a judge in the High Court in Cape Town said the woman's crime was premeditated and too serious not to warrant a jail term, South Africa's News24 said.
Zephany, who is now said to be pregnant, has shunned the media spotlight. But she has opted to move back to the home in which she had lived and has not formed any bond with her biological family.