Cameroon: Can Facebook Reunite Cameroonian Teen Mom With Her Baby?

Just a little over a year ago, the baby of Vanessa Tchatchou, a Cameroonian 17 year old, disappeared only a few hours after it was born at a public hospital in Yaoundé. Since then, the mother has been fighting a battle against hospital officials whom she suspects are complicit in the theft of her baby. These days the teen mom is wielding a weapon that's as powerful as it is widespread and low-cost, the internet.

Despite her frail appearance, Tchatchou shows continuous courage and determination. "I will not let go. I will fight until my baby is returned. Give me back my baby," the young woman says forcefully.

To try to find her daughter, she has been doing what people her age all over the world, for various - usually less drastic - reasons, are doing: using social media. With the help of a few volunteers, several Facebook pages have been created in the hopes that online networks will yield answers to Tchatchou's many unanswered questions.

Where is her baby? How could a baby be stolen from one of the most secure wards of the hospital? How could an infiltrator go unnoticed in such a room on a Saturday afternoon, a day when there are very few people in the hospital? Why have the few people authorized in the premature baby ward not been questioned? How could this child be admitted to another incubator without a birth certificate and without a doctor's note?

Online encouragement

Hundreds of users are active on the Facebook pages devoted to Tchatchou's cause. They share ideas to help locate the missing baby, providing valuable information and updates. But most importantly, the pages give the young mother a lot encouragement.

"Waging a battle via the internet costs very little and can mobilize large numbers of people around the world," says Tchatchou. "Thanks to the efforts of people online, many have protested outside the Cameroonian embassies in Britain, Belgium and France, to name a few examples. I hope that people will also share clues to help find my child."

How did it come to this?

On 19 August 2011, Tchatchou, then in her fifth year at high school, was ready to give birth. She recounts the sequence of events as follows: "I went to the obstetrics and paediatric hospital in Ngousso for the delivery. On the morning of 20 August, I delivered a premature daughter weighing less than two pounds. I had her in my arms for just a few seconds. Then she was taken to an incubator."

About six hours later, the baby disappeared from the incubator, which was located in a high-security room to which only a few members of hospital staff have access.

"The nurses told me that the baby was stolen from the incubator and that I should just go home," says Tchatchou. She did just the opposite.

The sit-in

"I had the impression the hospital staff was involved in this, especially since there had been other babies stolen at this hospital. So, I decided to stay in my room at the maternity ward," explains Tchatchou.

In fact, she launched a seven-month sit-in at the hospital. It took five months before newspapers and associations for the defence of human rights started paying attention to her Facebook pages.

To try to find her daughter, she has been doing what people her age all over the world, for various - usually less drastic - reasons, are doing: using social media. With the help of a few volunteers, several Facebook pages have been created in the hopes that online networks will yield answers to Tchatchou's many unanswered questions.

Where is her baby? How could a baby be stolen from one of the most secure wards of the hospital? How could an infiltrator go unnoticed in such a room on a Saturday afternoon, a day when there are very few people in the hospital? Why have the few people authorized in the pr

After questioning by one such association, Doh Anderson Sama, the director of the hospital at the time, explained that a "suspicious" woman had been seen at the hospital on the day the baby went missing. Tchatchou's mother, Sylvie Jueyep, twice filed complaints against the hospital and its director at the time. The efforts had no consequence.

Still fighting

On 12 March, seven months after the disappearance of her baby, a new hospital director expelled the teen mom from the maternity ward.

"I feel I am alone in the fight against a system, but I will continue to fight for my right to have my baby," says Tchatchou. "If there was some justice, my complaints would not have remained unaddressed. The hospital director would haSome of the Facebook pages:ve at least been heard."

Tchatchou dreams of a future where she can take her child in her arms and, like other young Cameroonians, be back at school. And even if they have not yet led her to her baby, the enthusiastic reactions on Facebook keep her going.

Some of the Facebook pages:

Vanessa Tchatchou : aidez-moi ! Ils veulent me tuer (‘Help me! They want to kill me’)

Tous pour Vanessa Tchatchou, la mère du bébé volé à Ngousso Yaoundé (‘All for Vanessa Tchatchou, mother of the baby stolen in Ngousso Yaoundé’)

Où est l’enfant de Vanessa (‘Where is Vanessa’s child?’)

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