SEVENTEEN years ago in April 1997 Celeste Nurse gave birth to a baby girl in Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, SA.

Three days later, while fast asleep the baby was snatched from her arms. Any woman who has birthed a child can only imagine the untold anguish of having her bundle of joy seized. It almost feels like having a chunk of her heart cut away.

Despite the fact that Celeste and her husband Morne went on to have three more children, this undoubtedly did not replace the loss of their first born child.

Over the years they did not forget their daughter and the memory of her was kept alive as they commemorated her birthday religiously every year.

They remained hopeful that one day their baby girl would be returned to them and ironically she was, albeit 17 years later. Zephany* grew up in a different home in the same neighbourhood with a different name not ever suspecting that the family she was raised in was not actually her own.

As fate would have it, she met her biological sister Cassidy when they both started Grade 8 at the same school. It is often said that siblings will always find each other.

If they are of different sexes it is said they feel an underlying attraction to each other. If they are of the same sex it is often said they develop a strong kinship or affinity towards each other. So it was in school where Cassidy and other pupils started noticing the striking resemblance between the two girls.

Cassidy mentioned this to her parents who then invited the young girl over for coffee. However, on seeing the resemblance they immediately contacted the police who then launched a full investigation which finally led to the discovery that Zephany was indeed their daughter.

This incident could have happened anywhere in the world. And unfortunately it is an incident that still continues to happen. Despite having developed a series of preventative measures like tight security around hospital nurseries and tags on newborn babies, infants disappear either through negligence or theft.

Who would want to steal a newborn baby, you may ask. Well clearly there are women out there who are desperate to have children.

So they fake pregnancy and when the nine months have transpired they go and linger around maternity wards waiting to abduct a child.

Some have gone to great lengths disguising themselves as nurses or healthcare workers. Others linger outside hospitals and pretend to be providing assistance to new moms who have just been discharged. Many women have lost their babies after a stranger asked to hold their child for a few seconds.

A profile has been developed for typical baby snatchers who are said to be normally overweight middle aged women.

When the three-day old baby in question was snatched, the woman who did so was 33 years old.

Now aged 5O the woman has been charged with kidnapping, but is currently out on bail. It is said she had suffered two miscarriages before she decided to abduct baby Zephany.

Not that this is a justification for what is clearly a criminal offence, but it was a motivating factor. The offender has no other children with her husband.

It is common for women who have suffered a series of miscarriages or are infertile to abduct babies. This is undoubtedly a psychological problem which requires psychiatric treatment. Society is not kind to women who cannot reproduce. They are stigmatised and ostracised.

Most women would feel pressured to abduct a baby in order to keep their marriages intact. No bride is willing to pay the price of being sent back home because they were unable to bear children. Then among those who can reproduce there is added pressure to birth a son, failure leads to some women abducting a male baby.

You almost feel sorry for these mothers because they don’t steal these babies with ill intent. Most of them create loving homes and become devoted mothers to these children.

Yet the fact remains, kidnapping babies and pretending to be their parents is a criminal offence, one that is punishable at law. Yet the dilemma remains; even if Zephany’s mum like all other fraudulent mothers is punished, we must not forget that this is the only mother that Zephany has known and probably loved.

However, this woman is still guilty of depriving the Nurses of seventeen years with their child, years that can never be reclaimed. 

Her intentions might have been good but they are still criminal.

*Zephany is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the abducted child.

Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi