When a young 17-year-old mother in Uganda had a visitor to her Masese III home, she was having a normal morning caring for her new baby. Agnes’ boy was just a month old and she was still getting used to looking after him.
The lady arrived in her doorway, acting like an old friend. Neighbours said that she had been looking for a girl that had just had a baby, so they assumed it must be Agnes. The woman said she wanted to change some money and didn’t know where, so she asked Agnes to go and change it for her, promising that she would give some of the money as a gift for the baby.
Agnes left the baby in the house and went to change the money. Whilst she was gone, the neighbours observed the woman looking around her and intently peering through the curtains of the house, but did not question it, assuming she was a friend.
When Agnes returned, the woman then said she had a job offer for her, so Agnes quickly fed and bathed the baby and they set off together. On the way, the woman said that she had left her phone in Agnes’ room, so Agnes asked her to hold the child for her and ran back. When she got back to the room there was no phone and when she returned to where she had left the woman, she had disappeared with the baby.
Agnes and her partner Najid were frantic, and went to find Godfrey, the chairperson of their local Child Protection Team (CPT). He went immediately to the police and to the local radio station to appeal for help, but the search yielded nothing. A week went by for the parents, while members of the CPT kept in touch with the police. One morning word came that a baby had appeared in a neighbouring community under suspicious circumstances. The police mounted a search and rescued Agnes and Najid’s son from the stranger. Just when they thought their ordeal was over however, the police requested a DNA test before they would let them take their son home, and insisted that they pay 245,000 Ugandan shillings for the privilege.
There was no way the young couple could afford this. Weeks started to go by where they were separated from their son (he had been cared for in an orphanage since his rescue) and they could do nothing. The CPT stepped in again and accompanied them to negotiate with the police. For 24 hours the CPT members negotiated with the police, showing official letters and speaking to different departments. At the end of this time, the baby was finally returned to his parents.
It was later revealed that the woman who took the baby had lied to her partner who had been deployed in Somalia with the Uganda People’s Defence Force. She had told him she was pregnant so he would send her money, then when he came back a year later, expecting to see a child of around two months, she decided to try and steal a baby.
Masese III community is largely made up of people from the Karamajong community, who come from the north of the country where the soldier was from. The woman had specifically targeted this area to find a baby that would look convincing.
On the day Agnes was reunited with her son she said "I am very happy that I have finally found my son. The lady who stole him thought since am a young girl I would be easily fooled but I am very grateful to the CPT, because if it wasn't for them, trust me, we wouldn't have got this far in rescuing him."
The Child Protection Teams we support in the slum communities around Jinja describe themselves as ‘the eyes, ears and mouths of the children they work to protect’. This story is a great example of how they work to bring children to safety and build a bridge between the community and local services.