The 24-year-old mother of a five-week-old baby was all in joy and tears when she recovered her baby from her husband who had abducted the baby from her for almost 36 hours from Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH) where she was nursing wounds of childbirth.
Katusiime Sarafina has been living in Kanyaryeru Sub-county in Kiruhura district together with her 20-year-old partner only identified as Owen Nyibirweki. On 18th August 2023, Sarafina went to deliver her first baby at Kanyaryeru Health Center.
Sarafina says “When the health workers assessed me, they told me they could not handle my delivery. They referred me to deliver at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. On 19th August, 2023, I delivered a baby boy by Caesarean Section”.
Sarafina developed wound sepsis, and she has had to stay in hospital for five weeks. During this period of stay in hospital, Sarafina says her partner had neglected to support her ever since she left home and came to give birth in hospital.
The train of events leading to the kidnap of the baby by Sarafina’s partner started on Saturday, 23rd August, 2023 when the partner came to hospital to visit her and the baby. A Good Samaritan gave USh.5,000/= (Five thousand Ugandan Shillings) to Sarafina in the presence of the partner; the latter complained that the money should have been given to him instead of Sarafina.
Sarafina says “When my husband complained, I gave him Sh.2000= and I kept Sh.3000. He ordered me to give him all the money I have been receiving from people, and when I refused, he started quarreling with me”.
When they went outside the Hospital gate to get something to eat for supper, Sarafina reports that the partner gave her a heavy slap. Sarafina took away the baby from her partner and rushed back into the hospital.
The partner followed her into the Hospital, “but when I entered the Maternity Ward, for him he remained outside the Ward, and I don’t even know where he slept that night” she says.
“Around 7:00am the next day (Sunday morning), I went to the bathrooms. On my return from there, the neighbors told me that my husband had come and taken the baby outside”, she narrates.
At first, she was not bothered to search for her baby. But, she later on sensed that all didn’t seem well. Around 11:00am, she reported the case of missing baby to the hospital authorities, and then to Mbarara Central Police Station. Attempts to make telephone contact with Owen were futile as his phone was switched off and the contacts were not available.
Early on Monday (25/09/2023) morning, the Hospital Director, Dr Barigye Celestine convened a meeting of the Hospital Administration, and urged the members to work closely with Police Security to recover the baby before the day’s closure. He emphasised to the members that just like an animal, when the newborn is taken away from the mother the baby is likely to suffer many negative physical and psychosocial problems, the mother’s breasts will become full and swollen, and cause her a lot of discomfort and pain.
“You people you must know that this is the mother who underwent Caesarean Section. She is on her path to recovery. But, when her baby is stolen after all the pain she has been through, it will cause her much torture psychologically”, Dr Barigye said.
How the baby was recovered MRRH authorities & detective interacting with the baby’s mother at Mbarara Central Police Right from the time that Sarafina reported a case of a missing baby, the Hospital Authorities and Police Security attached to Mbarara Central Police Station swung into action on a trail to locate the whereabouts of the one-month baby who had been stolen from the Hospital. Shortly after the Hospital Director had met the Hospital team, Nduhukire Venasius, one of the Hospital Security Officers made further efforts to contact Sarafina’s partner, Nyibirweki Owen, on his mobile number. Efforts had been made earlier, but had found the phone switched off, and all the contacts unavailable.
When Owen eventually answered the phone call from Venasius, the Hospital Security Officer, he admitted to be in possession of the baby but was cagy about his whereabouts. Asked about whether it was possible to meet with him and reunite the baby with the mother he initially expressed unwillingness. After further pleas of the importance of restarting the baby on breastfeeding, Owen directed the caller to find him at Crest Foam in Biharwe.
The Hospital Administration contacted the detectives at Mbarara Central Police Station, and soon after that the two teams and the baby’s mother hit the road in search of the baby. A first stopover in Biharwe where the suspect had directed them, did not reveal the suspect or the baby. When the team called Owen’s phone number again, he directed the them to Kanyaryeru, an indication that he had either given the teams false information initially, or he was buying time for his next moves.
When the team reached Kanyaryeru in the area where Owen and Sarafina had been staying together, the Hospital Security Officer, Venansius, who had been in contact with Owen together with the baby’s mother disembarked from the vehicle and commuted on a boda boda to reach the home of the couple. The rest of the team that remained in the vehicle followed the boda boda at a distance, but keeping an eagle’s eye for any eventuality.
After about one-half kilometer ride, Venasius who accompanied the wife on the boda boda, saw Owen in the company of a friend, emerging from the direction of his home carrying the baby. The team that was in the vehicle, following Sarafina and Venasius the proceedings, waited for Owen to handover the baby to the mother before they swung into action and arrested him.
On brief questioning, Owen claimed that he had not meant to steal his baby. But, that he was saving him from being taken to the mother’s parents, which Sarafina had planned earlier. He also claimed he had fears for the life of his child while in the hands of the mother.
However, the mother rubbished these claims by Owen, adding that he had neglected to support her and the baby ever since she gave birth at the hospital.
Upon recovery, the child was rushed to the Children’s Emergency Unit in the Hospital for assessment of any problems he may have developed while he was away from the mother, and later on returned with the mother to the Maternity Ward for her to continue receiving her treatment and care for the baby.
At Mbarara Central Police Station, the officers recorded statements from Owen, and have sice released him on Police Bond.
Mood at the Hospital
At the Maternity Ward, where the incident had taken place tensions had been very high. However, upon learning the news of recovery of the missing baby, patients and caretakers were all filled with excitements. The joyful mother was ushered in with her baby by her fellow women in the Ward amid jubilation and ululations. Caretakers were overheard commending the Hospital Administration for spearheading the successful search and recovery of the baby.
The women in the Ward were also heard asking about what plans Sarafina’s partner could have had for the proper breastfeeding of the child. By the time of recovery of the baby, the clothes the baby was wrapped in were filthy making it susceptible to any infections. Sarafina’s partner indicated he was only planning to get cow’s milk form neighbor’s to feed that baby, most likely meaning this baby had not fed all the time head been with Owen!!
This is another instance in which a baby is being removed from a mother in the hospital by a close relative. In September, last year, the hospital registered a case where a mother had lost a baby to unidentified person who picked her from the mother under the pretense of taking the baby for vaccination in the Well Child Clinic in the Outpatients’ Department of the Hospital.
The one-week old baby belonged to one Jane Asingyire who had been referred from Rwampara Health Center IV for completion of a Caesarian Section delivery. However, the following day the Hospital and Police Security was able to recover the baby from Ruti where the suspect had dumped her. The baby’s maternal grandmother was suspected to have had a hand in the act.
The Hospital Administration has since responded by intensifying measures already in place to offer safe custody of its patients and clients, and urges them to be extra careful with people they are dealing with while in the Hospital.