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‘You can’t go out and steal a child’: Baby snatcher is jailed for raising kidnapped girl as her own

Celeste Nurse, the biological mother of Zephany Nurse, reacts after the woman who kidnapped Zephany in 1997 was sentenced. (Sumaya Hisham/Reuters)

A woman in South Africa was sentenced Monday to 10 years in jail for kidnapping a newborn girl from her sleeping mother's hospital room in 1997, then raising the child as her own.

Eric Ntabazalila, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, told Agence France-Presse that prosecutors asked for a 15-year sentence for the 52-year-old woman, who has not been publicly identified.

"She gets 10 years' direct imprisonment," Ntabazalila told the news agency after the sentencing. "We are happy with that."

He added: "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. It’s wrong, it’s a crime."

The mind-boggling tale of how a mom found the baby stolen from her 18 years earlier

In 1997, the convicted kidnapper took a 3-day-old baby, whose birth name was Zephany Nurse, from Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, according to the AFP. Then in 2003, she registered the child under a false name and birth date, according to the Associated Press.

For 17 years, while Zephany's biological parents, Celeste and Morne Nurse, were celebrating their missing daughter's birthdays and wishing they would be reunited, the girl was living about a mile away — with a new name and new parents who were not her own.

It wasn't until years later that Zephany's true identity would be known.

Eventually, Zephany and a younger biological sister began attending the same high school, and students started commenting on their similar appearance, according to the AFP.

The girls became friends, and their biological parents became curious.

"We went to McDonald’s, and I started questioning her," their father said in court earlier this year, according to "I asked what her date of birth was; her birthday was the date my daughter was abducted. She said she didn’t look like her own folks, and she told me that she had thought about that over and over.

"I asked her why she thought she looked like me and Cassidy. She laughed and said she didn’t know. She said she felt confused," Morne Nurse said. "I didn’t want to scare her. I wanted to protect her at all costs. I left with the information I was looking for. I went onto Facebook and got more information on this girl; I scrutinized her account. I saw pictures of her, and she resembled my kids completely."

DNA evidence showed that the teen was the Nurses' missing child.

The Washington Post's Michael E. Miller reported earlier this year:

Celeste finally met her daughter on Feb. 26, 2015.
“I burst out into tears when I saw her,” Celeste told CBS. “And she kept me like this, in her arms the first time when she saw her dad, and when she came to me I just — I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop crying. I said, finally, I found you. For 17 years I’ve been looking for you.
“I found you finally. You’re mine again.”
Celeste and Morné Nurse describe reuniting with their daughter who was stolen from them at birth 18 years ago. The kidnapper was arrested and has pleaded not guilty. (Video: ENCA)

The case, which inched through South Africa's court system for more than a year, made news across the country, according to NPR.

In March, the woman was convicted of kidnapping, fraud and violating South Africa's Children’s Act, according to the AFP. She pleaded not guilty, claiming that she had gotten the newborn from a woman who had been giving her fertility treatments, the AFP reported.

On Monday, Judge John Hlophe in Cape Town told the woman she would serve 10 years behind bars for kidnapping, which caused "immense" pain to the parents.

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

Zephany, who is reportedly pregnant with her own child, has not tried to bond with her biological parents and has opted to live with her convicted kidnapper's husband, whom she thought was her father, according to the AP.

Her biological father said he wants a relationship.

"It’s actually made me tired; it’s made me sick completely," he told the AFP. "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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