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The Horrors of Baby Theft: A Mom’s Eye View

When I first heard of the news that a three-day-old baby was kidnapped from a hospital in Quezon City, I shrugged it off and deemed it a case of utter neglect on the part of the mother.

You see, I gave birth in December 2010 and I thought if Santa Teresita—the hospital where this incident happened—employs the same stern security measures being implemented in the hospital where I gave birth at, then it’s baffling how someone could steal a baby from its mother just like that. My first question was, how did it happen?

According to various news reports, the child’s mother, Ces de los Santos, claimed that at around 4 a.m. on September 4, a woman clad in a doctor’s gown came into her hospital room and told her that she has to take the baby for some screening tests. De los Santos consented and the unidentified lady left with baby Sean Gabriel in hand. Half an hour later, when a nurse came in for the baby’s scheduled bath, de los Santos said that the pediatrician took her child for some screening tests. The nurse was surprised, for according to her, they didn’t send a pediatrician to fetch the child from his mother’s room. Right there and then it dawned on de los Santos that her newborn son has been stolen.

De los Santos’s story transported me back to 2010 and I remembered how things were when my then newborn daughter and I were still in the hospital. I gave birth at Manila Doctors Hospital and like de los Santos, I also gave birth via Caesarean section. And because I had gestational hypertension, I stayed in the hospital for 3 days. I gave birth in the early evening and was sedated for some time so naturally, my baby wasn’t roomed-in on the first night. I got her the following morning. I remember how, at the end of each shift, the nurses attending to me would introduce their replacements and brief me on what to expect next—like having a doctor come over to look at me or the baby for instance. And since they were monitoring my hypertension, a nurse would come in every 2 hours to take my blood pressure. I distinctly recall that no matter how sleepy I was, I would always scrutinize the nurse’s nameplate and study her face. Also, I would always wake up my companion to look after my daughter while the nurse is attending to me. In the case of doctors, I met my daughter’s pediatrician right before I gave birth. I also was familiar with the other doctors who do routine checkups because the nurses would always accompany them and introduce them to me. Looking back, it all seemed natural to me – such routine, and I never really given much thought to it until now. What if I hadn’t been that vigilant? And what if the security protocols weren’t that stern? Somebody could have stolen my baby, too.

While I feel de los Santos’s pain, I also couldn’t help but wonder why she didn’t know the attending pediatrician. As a mother, I wouldn’t have entrusted my child to someone I have just met even if she’s all dolled up in doctor garb. But then, who am I to judge her lack of better judgment?

I felt aghast over the laxity of the hospital’s security. When something as grave and tragic as this incident happens, the first wave of blame is usually cast on the shoulder of the security people of the place where the event took place—and expectedly, the management of Santa Teresita Hospital didn’t dilly-dally to replace their security agency. Me thinks, however, that this is just a knee-jerk reaction. The management has issued a statement that they were devastated by what happened because in their 60 years of operation, this is the first time something like this happened. But you know what they say—the very thing you thought would never happen to you almost always happens when you least expect it to…

They have no CCTV cameras in place. The guard at the entrance doesn’t log visitor details. Clearly, security was lenient. They were lucky incidents like this evaded them for six decades. But I bet they wouldn’t be so lucky the next time around—for all we know, criminals are lurking somewhere near, waiting for the most opportune time to strike again.

This isn’t the first time

As I was doing research for this blog entry, I came across several accounts of infant abduction incidents in the country in the last two years. Most made headlines.

In March 2011, 37-year-old Marjorie Angoy Francisco gave birth at the Ospital ng Sampaloc in Manila. While there, she was befriended by a woman who introduced herself as Melon Aradanas. Because Francisco was alone, Aradanas offered to assist her and take her to the bus terminal when she and her baby were discharged. Once at the bus station, Aradanas suggested that Francisco use the restroom first before boarding the bus and leave the baby with her as she does her business. When Francisco returned from the restroom, Aradanas and her baby were gone. Angoy sought the help of a security guard at the terminal and reported the kidnapping to the police. It was later found out that Aradanas’s real name is Melogine Jarasa. She was tagged as the prime suspect in the spate of infant snatchings in Manila. She was later on arrested and charged for kidnapping, according to a special report on GMA7’s Unang Balita.

The same newscast also featured the story of Imelda Polsotin, whose newborn baby was kidnapped from a hospital in Ligao, Albay also in March. According to the report, Polsotin was chatting with an expectant mother with her baby beside her. At the course of their conversation, Polsotin dozed off and when she woke up, the pregnant woman disappeared along with her child. The suspect, Marivic Alepatros, pretended to be pregnant so she could gain Polsotin’s trust and kidnap the baby. She was later on caught.

In April 2011, another infant kidnapping incident made the news. A woman who posed as a nurse took the newborn child of a 17-year-old mother at the Ospital ng Maynila. According to an article published in the Inquirer, the young mom said she was sleeping in the maternity ward when a lady in a nurse’s uniform sans a nametag woke her up and told her that she was taking her daughter away to be weighed. When her baby was not returned to her the following day, the teenager asked the nurses where her baby is, but the nurses on duty could not account for the missing infant. The incident was reported to the police.

On December 17, 2011, a young mother named Jenifer Francisco lost her three-week-old son, Alexander, in an alleged kidnapping incident in Bago Bantay, Quezon City. Francisco approached ABS-CBN reporter Bernadette Sembrano after she saw the news on TV Patrol that a woman was caught on CCTV kidnapping a child in a supermarket in Manila. Based on the story aired on channel 2’s primetime newscast last May 3, a woman named Jenny was introduced to Francisco by a neighbor. Jenny apparently claimed she works for a foundation that helps children in need. Francisco said Jenny promised to pay for her son’s newborn screening and made good on her word by taking her son to a clinic for the agreed test. Once there, Jenny took the baby while Francisco was being attended to by the hospital staff. The act was again caught on cam but to this day, Francisco’s baby has not been recovered.

The story which called the attention of Jennifer Francisco happened on April 23 of this year. According to an earlier Women’s Desk feature here on SecurityMatters, Mary Jane Abes lost her two-week-old baby boy to a woman named Jenny who posed as well-meaning stranger who offered to lend her PhP500 in cash and PhP500 in groceries. Because she was in dire need of money and baby supplies, Abes took her son with her as she went grocery shopping with Jenny at the Isetann Supermarket in Carriedo. There, Jenny kindly offered to hold the baby for Abes to unburden her. While Abes was busy paying for her purchases, Jenny fled with the baby in tow. Isetann’s CCTV camera caught the incident on tape.

What do we do about it?

As a mother, hearing stories of children being taken away from their parents just like that shatters my belief that the world is still a safe place for children. I fear for my own little daughter’s safety and security. I couldn’t bare the thought of letting go of her hand when we’re out there, in the presence of strangers.

I wonder why these incidents go unnoticed. Have we become too trusting? Too lenient? Too complacent?

After the first two incidents of baby theft that hugged the headlines last year, the police has issued a warning to all mothers out there to keep an eye on their newborns. It seems, that the spate of baby abductions is no random act of kidnapping—it is larger than that. Ces de los Santos may have reason to fear that child trafficking could be the motive behind her son’s disappearance.

So it begs the question—what can we do about it?

Some of the cases stated above have not been solved. What are we lacking? Why can’t we track these criminals down?

Because I am such a fan of crime stories and reading Crime Library used to be part of my everyday routine, I am very much aware of the existence of AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert Program, a missing child response system devised to mobilize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of a missing child. The program was named in honor of Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl who was abducted and killed in Arlington, Texas in 1996.

The AMBER Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases.

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the AMBER  Alert Program is being implemented internationally since 2002 in countries such as Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Greece, UK, and The Netherlands.

According to the AMBER Alert website, the system works this way: Once law enforcement determines that a child has been abducted and the abduction meets AMBER Alert criteria, law enforcement issues an AMBER Alert and notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials. AMBER Alerts interrupt regular programming and are broadcast on radio and television and on highway signs. AMBER Alerts can also be issued on lottery tickets, wireless devices such as mobile phones, and over the Internet.

Following an abduction, every second counts, every moment is crucial. More so in a country like ours where most hospitals don’t even have CCTV cameras. If we can have a system like Amber Alert in place, then we would have better chances of recovering lost children, whether they were abducted or not.

If we can get TV and radio stations to air weather updates and tsunami warnings with fervent urgency, why can’t we do the same in the case of missing children?

Losing a baby is every parent’s nightmare. While it only takes a few minutes for abductors to take away our precious children, it takes a lifetime to deal with the loss of a child.

In view of the recent rash of child abduction in the country, we at SecurityMatters are encouraging the development and implementation of our very own AMBER Alert Program.