A South African woman has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after kidnapping a newborn baby and raising her for 17 years until the girl’s real identity emerged through a remarkable twist of fate last year.
Zephany Nurse’s identity came to light 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. A police investigation and DNA tests showed that the two girls were sisters.
Publicly, the girl is known by the name given to her by her biological parents and used in the media in the years since her disappearance. After she was found, the girl chose to continue using the name given to her by the kidnapper. To protect her privacy, a judge ordered that her adopted name and the name of her kidnapper must not be used by the media.
State prosecutors said the kidnapper snatched three-day-old Zephany 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 daughter in 2003 under a false birth date.
Zephany’s biological parents, Morne and Celeste Nurse, were in court for the sentencing in Cape Town on Monday, but their daughter was not. The judge, John Hlophe, said the crimes that the kidnapper had committed were serious, but he had taken into account her previously clean record and other mitigating circumstances in deciding the sentence.