Woman jailed for kidnap of newborn 20 years ago

Zephany Nurse was kidnapped as a baby in 1997.

A South African woman who kidnapped a newborn nearly two decades ago from a hospital and raised the girl as her own was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in jail.

Judge John Hlophe in Cape Town announced the sentence, telling the 52-year-old convicted kidnapper that she had caused “immense” pain to the biological parents whose baby was taken from them, the African News Agency reported.

Publicly, the young woman who was kidnapped as a baby is known as Zephany Nurse, the name given to her by her biological parents (below) and used in the media in the years since her disappearance.

Woman jailed for kidnap of newborn 20 years ago

After she was found, the girl chose to continue using the name given to her by the kidnapper. Zephany is expecting her own first child soon.

To protect her privacy, a judge ordered that her adopted name and the name of her kidnapper not be used by the media.

Judge Hlophe criticised 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.

“At the very least, one would expect you to apologise, but you chose not to,” the African News Agency quoted Hlophe as saying.

The family of the convicted kidnapper blew kisses to her as she was led to a holding cell after the sentencing, according to the agency. 

It also reported a confrontation between the kidnapper’s family and Zephany Nurse’s biological family outside the courthouse.

“She belongs to us,” said Chantall Berry, Zephany Nurse’s aunt. 

“She has our DNA. Her DNA will never change.”

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.

Zephany Nurse was reunited last year with her biological parents, Morne and Celeste Nurse, after the couple’s second daughter befriended a girl at school who looked remarkably like her.

A police investigation and DNA tests showed that the two girls were sisters and that the new friend was the Nurse’s missing child.

Zephany Nurse’s biological parents were in court for the sentencing yesterday, but their daughter was not. 

Zephany Nurse has not been allowed contact with the convicted kidnapper but has been living with the kidnapper’s husband, who she thought was her biological father, according to South African media reports.

State prosecutors said the kidnapper snatched a three-day-old baby from her sleeping mother’s hospital bedside in Cape Town in April 1997. 

The prosecution also said the woman defrauded authorities when she registered the child as her own daughter in 2003 under a false birthdate.

Zephany’s 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.”


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