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Human trafficking: What makes a woman steal a baby?

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Published Dec 9, 2020


CAPE TOWN – What are the factors that push a woman to steal another’s baby? For some, it’s the overwhelming desire to have a baby of their own that makes them go to any lengths.

The case of Zephany Nurse made headlines across the world after it was revealed a woman dressed as a nurse had stolen her when she was a newborn in a Cape Town hospital in 1997.

After 17 years of being raised by Levona and Michael Solomon, Nurse was reunited with her biological parents, Morné and Celeste. DNA tests confirmed her identity.

A distinctly similar crime occurred in 1998 when Gloria Williams walked into a hospital in Florida dressed as a nurse and walked out with a newborn girl. Williams raised the girl for 18 years as her daughter in South Carolina.

In 2018, Williams confessed to the abduction of the baby girl after an anonymous tip was sent to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Director and co-founder of the Pink Ladies Missing Children Organisation Jacqui Thomas said many of the human trafficking crimes in South African were underreported.

“As the taboo on such crimes lifts, reporting will become more common,” she said.

Women who traffic or steal babies could have psychological illnesses.

“They are desperate to have a child and appease their partner's demands for the same. It appears to be a comparatively easy crime to commit as well, given the naive and trusting nature of South African citizens in some communities,” said Thomas.

National co-ordinator for Missing Children South Africa (MCSA) Bianca van Aswegen said there were a number of possible motives behind children being kidnapped or stolen.

In the US, the NCMEC confirmed 327 cases of infant abduction over the past 50 years and nearly all have been female abductors.

In analysing the abductions, the center developed a list of characteristics usually exhibited from an infant abductor. These include:

  • Usually being a female of childbearing age who appears pregnant.
  • Often married or cohabitating. Has a companion with a desire for a baby or the abductor's desire to provide her companion with "his" baby may be the motivation for the abduction.
  • Usually plans the abduction, but does not necessarily target a specific infant; frequently seizes any opportunity to abduct a baby.
  • Frequently impersonates a nurse or other allied health-care personnel.
  • Often demonstrates a capability to provide care to the baby once the abduction occurs, within her emotional and physical abilities.

Missing Children South Africa offers steps to take when you suspect a child has gone missing.

  • Try not to panic.
  • Do not wait 24 hours to report your missing child.
  • Get a responsible person to stay at your house while you’re at the police station or searching for your child.
  • Go to your nearest police station and take a recent and good quality photograph of the child with you, so that they can be easily identifiable.
  • Give a good description of what the child was wearing, their last whereabouts and any information that may help the police.
  • Make sure you obtain a reference number from the police and a contact name and number of the SAPS officer(s) assigned to the investigation.
  • Remember that if your child returns home, you should go to the police station to report that the child is safe and let MCSA know that your child has returned home safely.