Missing toddler, mother-in-law and a desperate Iten mum’s cry for justice

A mother's pain: Woman says 20-month-old daughter was stolen by relative

What you need to know:

  • Two months ago, Sheila Jepchirchir, 24, left her baby of 20 months under the care of her mother, Bendina Kiplagat.
  • In Sheila’s absence, her mother-in-law allegedly visited their home, and requested to go and buy sodas with the baby, but soon after the two went missing.

A distraught woman in Elgeyo-Marakwet County is crying for help, she claims her mother-in-law took away her child and cannot be traced two months later.  

It all started on January 5, when Sheila Jepchirchir, 24, left her baby of 20 months under the care of her mother, Bendina Kiplagat. She left home and travelled to her husband’s place of work to collect her academic certificate in Serem, at the border of Nandi and Vihiga counties.

Two days later, in Sheila’s absence, her mother-in-law allegedly visited her home in Chebokogwa village on the outskirts of Iten town in Elgeyo-Marakwet County. The mother-in-law had reportedly attended a burial in the locality and went to Sheila’s house on the pretext of “checking on their wellbeing”.

An undated picture of the 20-month missing girl, Violet Khamete who was allegedly stolen by her paternal grandmother in Chebokogwo village on the outskirts of Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet on January 7, 2024.

Sheila’s mother told Nation.Africa that she was going about her daily activities on January 7, when the said woman, who was known to the family, arrived at her home at around 4pm. They exchanged pleasantries and she served her food, she said.

About 30 minutes later, Sheila’s mother-in-law, who all this time was holding her grandchild, allegedly requested to go and buy sodas for two other children at a nearby kiosk. She left for the shop with the baby and the other children.

Ms Kiplagat says that when the visitor took time to return, she started getting worried.

After an hour, the children who had accompanied Sheila’s mother-in-law returned home alone. They informed their grandmother that the visitor had boarded a motorcycle and headed to Iten town with the baby.

“We telephoned her immediately when we got the report, and she told us that she had gone to buy some meat and would be returning with the baby shortly,” narrated Ms Kiplagat.

But that never happened.

Distressed family members made a report at Iten police station. Numerous phone calls were made, but they went unanswered.

Sheila Jepchirchir,24, with her mother Bendina Kiplagat at her home in Chebokogwo village in Elgeyo Marakwet County on February 25,2024. 

It has been close to two months now since the toddler went missing.

“The visitor was known to us, because she had been doing business in the neighbourhood for more than a decade. Although she had not seen her grandchild since she was born, I did not read any mischief, because when she left for the shop she was accompanied by our other two children,” said Ms Kiplagat, who has been taking care of the missing baby for more than a year.

She claims that the minor’s paternal grandmother has since switched off her mobile phone, and cannot be reached.

“We are really worried about the safety of my missing grandchild. The government should assist us in tracing the whereabouts of the woman and the missing baby because we do not know what her intentions were,” she told Nation.Africa.

According to Sheila’s family, her mother-in-law does not have a known residence, and the fact that she cannot be reached on the phone complicates matters further.

Contacted for comment, however, Elgeyo-Marakwet County Police Commander Peter Mulinge said that according to the Directorate of Criminal Investigation officers, the matter is a family affair. He said that the affected parties are supposed to sort it out among themselves.

“The case was not reported to me, but the information I have is that the minor was taken by her grandmother and the two families were supposed to solve the issue among themselves, according to the DCI.

If the case was considered criminal, I would have pursued it but I am told it is a family issue,” Mr Mulinge said, while promising to revisit the case.

But Sheila denies the claims. She said that she returned home from Serem and was informed that her mother-in-law had left with her baby without their knowledge.

“When the child went missing, I was not at home. I was away for two days when I went to collect my academic certificates from my husband’s place of work because they were needed in college. My husband never informed me that his mother would be coming to take the child,” said Sheila, who is a student at a technical institute in Iten town.

“I was shocked to arrive home only to be told that the baby was missing and that she had been taken by my mother-in-law,” she stated.

Sheila’s elder brother, Titus Kiplagat, escorted her to Iten police station where they reported the incident under Occurrence Book (OB) number 27/07/01/2023 seen by Nation.Africa.

An occurrence book (ON) number was recorded at Iten police station, Elgeyo Marakwet on January 7, 2024 over a missing minor.

Since they made the report at the police station late at night, they were instructed to return the following day.

Sheila’s mother-in-law's phone was tracked by DCI detectives who traced the signal in Malinya, Kakamega County. The family was referred to Malinya.

“We used our resources to get to Malinya police station, but the officers there told us that the case should be followed by their counterparts in Iten.

The police in Iten, however, offered to track Sheila’s mother-in-law’s phone, which was traced in Maragoli, Vihiga County. They gave us options to either go back or proceed to Maragoli. Because we were using our resources, we opted to go back,” Sheila said.

A few days later, officers at the Iten police station called the family and instructed them to look for the missing child’s father in Serem, hundreds of kilometers away, to come and record a statement.

Sheila said that the police told them they had no resources to get to Serem. Her family hired a taxi, and accompanied by two police officers, they travelled from Iten to Serem.

“The baby’s father was found, and he was detained at the Iten police station for two days. However, he was released on grounds that he had no connection with the missing child’s case. We filed a case at the children's office, “she said, noting that her mother-in-law’s phone was last tracked to Ukunda, Mombasa County.

Sheila has been spending sleepless nights since her child disappeared; not knowing whether she is safe or not. Her cry is for the relevant authorities to act swiftly and trace the missing baby.

“I don’t know why my mother-in-law resorted to taking the baby in such a manner,” she said.

Sheila’s elder brother is disturbed that the police have been silent about the matter for almost two months now.

“It seems we have been left on our own to find the baby who is too young to stay away from her mother.

We are anxious because of how she was taken away from us, and the suspect is out of reach. Police should follow up on the matter urgently because we don’t know if the child is safe,” said Mr Kiplagat.