The woman charged with kidnapping a three-day-old baby from Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town 17 years ago could avoid going to prison, as she did not harm the child.
Pretoria attorney Llewellyn Curlewis said various circumstances could keep the woman – who cannot be named – out of jail even if she was convicted.
“Mitigating factors will have to be considered, especially the fact that the girl was not harmed in the kidnapping.”
However, he said that because of the “seriousness of the offence” the court might want to show that crimes of this nature would not be tolerated. He said there was no prescribed minimum sentence for kidnapping.
The woman is due back in court on Friday.
She was arrested after the 17-year-old – who was named Zephany Nurse by her biological mother before she was snatched – ended up at the same high school as her 14-year-old biological sister, where pupils noticed a startling resemblance. Police were called and the woman Zephany knew as her mother was arrested.
Dr Simone Honikman, director of the perinatal mental health project at UCT, said the trial was likely to be complicated by several factors.
She said that if the suspect – who was reportedly pregnant in 1997 – had experienced the trauma of a stillbirth just before the kidnapping, “it would be important for mental health professionals to come on board with an assessment for the purpose of a fair trial”.
She said a stillbirth could be “an enormous trauma for mothers”.
Nina de Caires, managing director at Child Welfare Tshwane, said the suspect remained the only mother Zephany had known.
“There are losses from all angles in this case. After the dust has settled, all parties will have to focus on the positives, like Zephany now having two sets of parents,” said De Caires.
Yesterday Western Cape Social Development MEC Albert Fritz said Zephany – who is at a place of safety – had met her biological parents this weekend.
“Short planned visits and interaction sessions took place this weekend between the biological family and the teen.”
He said the department had “begun the long and complex reunification process” of Zephany with her biological family.