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Tracking down Kenya’s ‘miracle babies’

BBC, UK
Sep. 20, 2004
Ishbel Matheson, BBC correspondent in Nairobi
news.bbc.co.uk

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday September 20, 2004

In her cramped Nairobi, living room, Lucy Mbugua places a photograph of a laughing, plump toddler, alongside a front-page newspaper picture of a group of children.

The headline in Kenya’s Daily Nation from 19 August, is “Miracle Birth babies.” Below, the newspaper asks, “Do you recognise any of them?”

Lucy asks me to study the photograph, and identify which one matches her child. I look closely, then pick out the second on the left.

Lucy nods. The little boy, dressed in an over-sized sweatshirt, resembles her son, Christopher, who vanished from the family farm in the Rift Valley in 2000.

Kenyan police found the child at the home of the Oderas, a couple linked to the London-based pastor, Archbishop Gilbert Deya, who claims to be able to make infertile women pregnant through prayer.

He was one of 11 children seized. A further nine were taken from the Nairobi home of Mrs Deya, the archbishop’s wife.

Kenyan police say DNA tests show only one of the children belongs to Mrs Deya. None is the biological child of the Oderas.

DNA tests

After seeing the newspaper, Lucy and her husband travelled to the Nairobi orphanage where the children were being held. They picked out the boy, and Lucy held him in her arms.

“After I took the kid in my own arms, and held him, the kid didn’t want to go back again, he just started crying.”

But the boy did not recognise Lucy or her husband.

“‘Do you know me?’ I asked. The kid said: ‘No.’ ‘And do you know this man?’ The kid said: ‘No.’

“‘OK,’ I said, ‘Are we your friends?’ The kid replied: ‘Yes.’

“I asked the kid: ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Jose Odera,’ he said.”

Ray of hope

The story of Gilbert Deya, and his “miracle” babies, was first aired on the BBC Radio 4′s Face the Facts.

Women were travelling from the UK to Nairobi, supposedly to give birth in slum clinics.

However, when the British authorities did DNA tests on one of the “miracle” babies, the child was found to have no link to the alleged mother.

In Kenya, the front-page picture of the children seized from the homes of the Oderas and Deyas, offered a ray of hope to more than 50 couples.

Children they had given up for dead may actually be alive.

Agnes Njue was one of them. She thinks there is a chance that one of the boys may be her son. Mucaria was born in 2002, in a Nairobi hospital.

Shortly after his birth, the hospital authorities told her that the baby had died.

Despite repeated requests, the hospital failed to produce the newborn’s body.

Agnes says: “So I ask myself, who took my baby? You are telling me that my baby is dead, where is the body? Who buried the body? So I think my baby is somewhere.”

‘Baby 14′

Many of the parents who have come forward since the publicity surrounding Archbishop Deya claim their babies disappeared while in hospital, raising fears of child-trafficking network.

“Kenya is actually a country where you can buy babies,” says Millie Odhiambo of The Cradle, a legal rights organisation.

She says poor adoption procedures, combined with corruption and poverty, are to blame.

“The information that we are receiving is that the lighter-skinned the child is, the more expensive the child.”

We meet Stephen Gashingo and his wife at CID headquarters, waiting for authorisation for a DNA test.

They believe that the child identified only as “Baby 14″ on the police line-up could be their son.

But on a visit to the orphanage, they failed to pick him out: the boy was only a newborn when he disappeared.

Mrs Gashingo was taken to Pumwani Maternity Hospital in May 2000, after complications following the delivery of her child.

But three days after the birth, the father, Stephen, was told the child had passed away.

He was shown the body of a newborn – but the corpse did not have his son’s distinguishing birthmark.

“I told them that wasn’t my kid, because he didn’t have that mark, the birthmark.”

Stephen was so convinced that the baby was not his that he refused to take it home for burial.

Several couples identify Pumwani, Kenya’s biggest public maternity hospital, as the place where their babies vanished.

Long wait

John Ndonye’s son was born in Pumwani in 1998. A day later, he was told his son had died.

A nurse showed him the body of a newborn, which he instantly rejected.

“I suspected foul play. I told her the baby was not mine.”

Like many couples who lost babies at Pumwani, the Ndonyes are poor. They do not have enough money to challenge the authorities, and are distrustful of the police.

John saw no point in reporting his suspicions at the time – because Kenya was then being ruled by President Daniel arap Moi, and his notoriously corrupt ruling Kanu clique.

“Under the Kanu era, there was no justice, no law and order.”

Police are now investigating possible links between Pumwani, and the Deyas. But it is proving a difficult and complex case for the poorly-trained and under-resourced Kenyan police.

Parents who came forward for DNA tests were promised the results in 10 days. They have now endured an agonising wait of four weeks.

‘Fair trial’

Meanwhile, the archbishop and his wife have adamantly denied any involvement in child-trafficking.

Mrs Deya has been charged with the theft of one child from Pumwani – a charge she denies. Four others – including the Oderas – have also been charged with child theft. All deny the charges.

The archbishop remains in Britain and is now referring any media inquiries to his solicitor.

On his Deya Ministries website, he continues to insist that the “miracle babies” are real, and has denounced the wicked authorities in Kenya. The Kenyan police want to extradite him.

They are hoping the long-awaited DNA test results may throw some light on this murky saga.

CID spokesman Gideon Kibunjah says: “He will get a fair trial. We don’t have anything against him as an individual… We are not depending on what the press are saying, we will be depending on DNA results.”

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