From their pictures and videos, Matthew and Daisy Mazzoncini appear to be loving, doting parents. Photographs show them kissing their son on the cheek, cradling him in the hospital when he was sick, and smiling ear to ear as they celebrated his birthday.
So how could a young couple living overseas in Kenya, motivated by their Christian faith and moved by compassion to care for a young, sickly Kenyan boy even possibly be mistaken as child traffickers?
Their lawyer, friends, and supporters believe the answer is easy. They say that label is 100 percent false and based on a rogue government agency’s pursuit of money and power.
“If Daisy and Matt had done anything wrong, why were they not arrested?” the couple’s lawyer, James Singh, asked CBN News in a telephone interview ahead of a court proceeding that potentially will shed light on their plight.
The Mazzoncinis nightmare began the night of April 5, 2019, when about a dozen plainclothes officers raided their apartment and took Kiano, the three-year-old Kenyan boy who legally has been in their care for the past two years. The Nairobi Children’s Court awarded them joint legal guardianship in April 2017.
By the time Mazzoncinis appear before a Kenyan judge on Thursday, it will have been 34 agonizing days since they last saw Kiano, who calls Daisy and Matt “mom” and “dad.”
More than a month after their separation, they have not been told where he is, who has custody, or the status of the little boy’s health. Kiano suffers from a complex medical history including epileptic seizures.
For his parents—who still have not been given a reason why the government took the child—the silence has been deafening, digging a deeper hole in their already broken hearts.
“They took our baby!” Daisy sobbed through tears in a video describing the night Kiano was taken. “He must be so frightened, and we don’t even know if he’s had his medication. Please let him come home!” she begged.
Their hope now is that the court hearing will lead to Kiano’s return and provide answers for why he was taken – or “abducted,” as Matt told CBN News is a more accurate description of what actually happened.
Children’s advocates familiar with their story say it’s not surprising.
Susan Otuoma runs the Little Angels Network, a licensed Kenyan-based adoption service. She believes Kiano and his parents got caught in the middle of a turf war.
“This is not about them being bad parents. This is a narrative that’s been going on a long time,” Otuoma explained. “Child Welfare Society is labeling everyone as a child trafficker.”
Otuoma cited other cases involving the Child Welfare Society of Kenya, or CWSK, described on its website as a “state corporation for the care, protection, welfare and adoption of children.”
Those cases allege similar trafficking accusations and were made against foreign nationals from Sweden, Norway, and Canada. According to public records, the High Court of Kenya has ruled in several cases that it was in the best interest of the child to stay with the adoptive parents or legal guardians despite a 2014 temporary ban on international adoptions that remains in effect today.
“Child Welfare Society is not interested in the welfare and wellbeing of Kenyan children,” Otuoma told CBN News. “This is about power and authority. They want to be the only adoption agency in Kenya.”
Peter Kamau, founder of Child in Family Focus, agrees.
“It’s obvious that a huge travesty of justice is going on,” Kamau said.
Both Otuoma and Kamau told CBN News that CWSK isn’t just operating outside of the law. They contend the taxpayer-supported agency aims to be Kenya’s main adoption provider, without meeting the standard registration or licensing requirements. CWSK bills itself as the “National Adoption Society of Kenya” on its website.
According to official government documents provided to CBN News, the Child Welfare Society of Kenya failed to meet registration requirements that would allow it to arrange international or domestic adoptions like other organizations that were licensed by the governing body, called the Adoption Committee. Instead, it was issued an exemption by a high-ranking cabinet official, Samuel Kazungu Kambi, in October 2013. The decree did not explain why the agency received the waiver.
Kamau’s group signed on to a court review of CWSK’s waiver which was twice overturned in court. A former orphan himself, Kamau is outraged that the agency is still operating and “ruining children’s lives with impunity.”
“This is a coattail. CWSK is using a backdoor means to get special favors. It is breaking the law and doing things out of due process. It is doing things in a corrupt way,” Kamau explained. “Its coattail is deep-rooted. A cabinet secretary has been compromised.”
According to the Mazzoncinis’ attorney, CWSK’s involvement is what triggered the raid, which was carried out by an arm of Kenya’s national police service, known as the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, or DCI.
The group posted and then deleted the following tweet after the raid on the Mazzoncini’s home in early April:
“Detectives acting on information worked around the clock to rescue three-year-old baby Kiano from American citizens Matthew Mazzoncini and Daisy Mazzoncini who had planned to travel with the baby back to the US,” the tweet read.
The couple had applied to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment on the advice of several Kenyan doctors and a specialist in Tennessee who reviewed the files of Kiano’s case. They suggested urgent medical care – or risk possible long-term damage or developmental delay.
According to Singh, the couple followed the law and even offered to be accompanied by a CWSK representative if Kiano’s medical trip was approved. They believe the approval never came because of false objections raised by CWSK.
Singh told CBN News the entire episode doesn’t pass the smell test.
“The manner in which the raid happened late Friday afternoon, there was no identification – and to the extent that the officers tried to disguise themselves, it leads me to believe that there was something that was untoward,” he explained.
Since CWSK became involved in their case, the couple has been accused of everything from abuse to lying about Kiano’s health to being labeled child traffickers.
The Child Welfare Society of Kenya did not answer CBN News‘ request for a response.
Thursday’s habeas corpus hearing was originally scheduled last month but was postponed until this week. Singh told CBN News he expects Kiano to be brought to court so they can assess his condition firsthand.
“The child is said to be safe and secure. We still don’t believe that, and we’ll only believe that when the child appears for court,” he said on the phone.
The bonds that make their heartbreaking separation so painful were formed in August 2016.
Daisy landed in Kenya for summer volunteer work at a shelter, which is where she met an eight-month-old baby boy whose health was severely in decline. She learned “John” had been abandoned with his twin brother James, found outside of prayer center near Nairobi in a plastic bag. James later died.
Matt and Daisy spent thousands of dollars to pay for the infant’s medical expenses, treating problems with his breathing, pneumonia, and malnutrition. After nearly a year of providing for his personal and medical care, they were granted legal guardianship and added “Kiano” to his name – which means “full of joy.”
“We always knew we wanted to be parents,” Daisy told CBN News in a phone interview in April. “We struggled with infertility, which was really a hard season. And through that God opened our heart to adoption.”
“We, obviously, love Kiano like he is a birth child. He’s the child that God gave us and that we love so much,” she added.
Though they are thousands of miles from home, the couple is receiving support in Kenya and beyond.
Kamau contacted the Mazzoncinis soon after learning about their situation.
“I talked with them purely to comfort them,” he told CBN News. “What is happening to the child has nothing to do with child trafficking, rather the child is a victim of power and money.”
He also offered them spiritual support, referencing a Bible verse from Psalms 68.
“Mine were words of comfort – telling them the God of justice would prevail; for he is a father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows. God sets the lowly in families,” he recounted.
They’re also receiving assistance from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
“Other than that entity, this family has literally been on their own on this journey of helping a child who needs care and consistent love and attention from caring adults,” Kamau added.
As CBN News previously reported, the family’s story gained traction among Kenyan news outlets and social media.
The Star published an article that includes a brief 2-minute video with background information and concludes with Matt and Daisy making an emotional appeal for their son and his wellbeing. They are concerned about what happens if Kiano doesn’t receive the medication to treat his seizures.
In addition to their friends and family, their story has been shared or highlighted by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Macklemore, and Natasha Bedingfield – who described herself on Twitter as a close friend of Daisy, who is a dual British and American citizen.
As the campaign to #BringKianoHome grows, supporters, like Utuoma, urge people to voice their concerns with both U.S. and Kenyan government officials, including the U.S. Embassy and the Department of State.
Their new friend Peter Kamau also has another suggestion: prayer.
“Pray for the family. Pray for this child. Prayer is so important,” he said. “Pray that the Lord will shine the light and expose every evil and expose every deception and every entity and every scheme that is working against this child. He’s one child that represents many others.”