Why women steal babiesComment on this story
Some women resort to heinous crimes just to be seen as mothers. Botho Molosankwe investigates this shocking phenomenon.
Johannesburg - In a desperate quest to secure a partners’ love and also prove that they are fertile, some women resort to heinous crimes – just to be seen as mothers.
Some have prowled malls, hospitals and children’s homes looking for a baby to steal. Others have killed.
On January 6, 2012, Loretta Cooke allegedly lured heavily-pregnant Valencia Behrens to her Toekomsrus, West Rand home, under the pretext that she would give her a pram for her expected baby. At the time, Cooke was allegedly faking a pregnancy and had befriended Behrens.
A few hours later, paramedics and police were called to Cooke’s house. They found Behrens dead, her stomach cut open, the uterus missing and the baby removed from it, allegedly by Cooke.
On July 31 last year, Zandile Makulana lured pregnant Pretty Tsanga to a house in Boksburg, east of Joburg where three accomplices were waiting. Makulana was also faking a pregnancy.
Tsanga was strangled, her stomach cut open and her baby girl taken. Makulana took the baby, who later died, and told her boyfriend she had given birth in the veld.
Makulana’s boyfriend rushed her to hospital but the 25-year-old woman was already plotting to steal a live baby there and exchange it with the dead one in her arms.
Tsanga’s body, which had been set alight, was later found in a soccer field.
Makulana had become obsessed with having children after her husband’s family apparently abused her because she was unable to conceive. She also claimed to have been ridiculed by her community, and her husband then met another woman who bore him children. Rejected by her in-laws and husband, she left her marital home and met another man.
However, in her desperation to show the new man and his family that she could indeed have children, she hatched a plan to steal Tsanga’s baby and present it as her own.
Police psychologist Colonel Professor Gerard Labuschagne, who analysed Makulana’s case, said stealing a baby from its mother’s womb was known as Caesarean kidnapping, and that those who committed the crime did so in order to cement their relationships with their partners.
“Some researchers noted a dual motive: first to cement a failing partner relationship, and to fulfil a childbearing fantasy.
“These offenders were most often motivated by an intention to consolidate an insecure relationship with a man and influence his feelings,” Labuschagne’s report stated.
Clinical psychologist Ntshediseng Tlooko agrees that factors such as family circumstances and societal and cultural influences feature in reasons why women fake pregnancies and then resort to kidnapping a child to raise as their own.
She said one of the main reasons was that “everyone wants to be loved and cared for and feel like they belong”.
“In Makulana’s case, she found love after being in an emotionally-abusive relationship where she was mistreated and degraded for not being able to bear children. This experience may have scarred her emotionally and so, when she entered the new relationship, she may have unconsciously felt pressured to give her partner a child.
“This unconscious pressure may be precipitated by the deep fear that if she does not give her partner a child she may get rejected, like… in her previous relationship. She may fear that her current partner and his family may also mistreat her…
“When people do not deal with the emotional damage they may have endured from past relationships, they run the risk of bringing those issues into their current relationships.”
Tlooko said women were seen as nurturers and caregivers, which meant it felt “only right” that a woman should have a child.
“Negative connotations are given to women who do not have children. (They’re given names) such as barren, spinster or ‘lefetwa’ (left behind). Such labels can be very hurtful to the person concerned.”
women, however, steal an infant as a means to an end.
A few years ago, Free State teacher Aletta du Plessis told her lover, a wealthy farmer, that she was pregnant. The two were no longer dating when the then 43-year-old Du Plessis, who already had two children, announced her pregnancy.
When her “due date” drew closer, she took maternity leave to visit a relative in Joburg. Unbeknown to everyone, Du Plessis had faked pregnancy, padding her stomach with a pillow and never allowing her lover to see her naked or touch her. In Joburg she wanted to steal a child to take home and present as her own.
Warrant Officer Peet du Toit of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences unit investigated the case.
He said Du Plessis hunted for a baby for three weeks before managing to steal a three-month-old boy in Krugersdorp. Back home, she passed him off as a newborn. She was later arrested.
Both Du Toit and Lieutenant-Colonel Heila Niemand – who took Du Plessis’s confession – said she later admitted to having stolen the child to cement her relationship with the farmer.
“He was a very wealthy and renowned farmer and it seems she was pressing for commitment, knowing very well his financial status and that he would be a good catch,” Du Toit said.
Forensic criminologist Professor Anna van der Hoven said when some women wanted a man’s love, “they get blinded, can’t think rationally” and, hence, resort to desperate and criminal methods.
Van der Hoven said the instinct to be a mother could be very strong and override everything. For some, it was very important to be respected and accepted in their community, and if they could get that by having a child, they would even kill. However, they would battle to naturally bond with the children they had stolen.
“Those underlying motives… will interfere with the natural bonding. It’s not love that they have for the child, it’s more an obsession to prove that they are fertile. They are just motivated by selfishness.”
Traditional healer Phepsile Maseko said when many women married, their in-laws expected them to conceive within a certain period. If they did not, the husband could be encouraged to find someone younger who could give him children.
“In some communities, especially rural ones, rumours will fly that the woman can’t conceive… Some would tell her to her face that she is barren… the woman would suffer a lot of psychological abuse.”
Makulana’s boyfriend left her after she was arrested. Du Plessis’s lover died a week after her arrest. His family believed what had happened was too much for him.
Makulana is serving a 20-year sentence. Du Plessis received a three-year correctional supervision term and Cooke’s trial is expected to start later this month.