South African woman pleads not guilty to 1997 kidnapping of infant from hospital

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A South African woman has pleaded not guilty to charges that she kidnapped an infant from a hospital nearly 19 years ago and raised the child as her own, South African media reported on Tuesday.

The woman faces charges of kidnapping, fraud and breaking South Africa's child protection laws, the African News Agency reported.

The woman told the court she had adopted the baby, after struggling with infertility. She said she was not aware the child was kidnapped. The woman who facilitated the adoption told her a young woman had given the child up, she said.

State prosecutors say the woman, now 50, allegedly snatched a three-day-old baby from her sleeping mother's hospital bedside in 1997. The prosecution also said the woman allegedly defrauded authorities when she registered the child as her own daughter in 2003, also changing her birthdate, the agency reported.

Celeste Nurse, the girl's biological mother, broke down on the witness stand as she recalled the day her daughter went missing, the agency reported. Semi-conscious after a morphine drip, she thought a nurse picked up her crying baby. When she woke up her baby was gone.

"I was crying my heart out in the fetal position," said Morne Nurse, the girl's biological father, recalling the same day.

The Nurse family found their kidnapped daughter last year, after their second daughter befriended a girl at school who looked remarkably like her. After a police investigation and DNA tests, that new friend turned out to be their missing child. The alleged kidnapper was arrested and released on bail last March.

The girl, now 18 and known in court proceedings and by the media by her birth name Zephany. In public she uses the name given to her by her alleged kidnapper. A judge ordered that neither the woman nor the girl may be identified.