Kenyan authorities have begun an investigation into an international smuggling syndicate that is suspected of stealing children. Five people have already been charged in Kenya with child theft.

A Kenyan pastor based in London, Gilbert Deya, and his wife Mary, who lives in Nairobi, are at the center of a child smuggling probe by both Kenya and Britain.

Kenyan police recently raided homes belonging to the Deyas and another couple, Michael and Eddah Odera, and took 21 children into protective custody.

The Deyas and Oderas say the children belong to them, but DNA tests showed 20 of the 21 children are not related to either couple.

The Oderas, Mrs. Deya, and two British citizens of Ugandan and Nigerian origin were subsequently arrested and charged with stealing children and are to appear in Kenyan court in November. The five have denied the charges.

Police spokesman Jaspher Ombati says Kenyan authorities are now focusing their investigations on locating the parents of the children and determining whether the children were to be smuggled out of the country.

Mr. Ombati says 50 couples have come forth to claim the children, 15 of whom have already provided DNA samples. He says there are also allegations that Pumwani Maternity Hospital, located in a poor slum of Nairobi, is involved in these and possibly other child thefts.

"Parents have been complaining that their kids disappear immediately after birth and they're talking about Pumwani," he said. "For instance, out of the 50 couples who turned up to claim the babies, 24 of them said their babies were born in Pumwani. They date back as [far as] 1993."

British authorities have been investigating Mr. Deya's ministry for some time. Mr. Deya claims that women he prays for can conceive without having sexual relations and give birth in four months.

Investigators suspect that the women then come to clinics in Nairobi slums, ostensibly to give birth, but, in fact, steal newborns there.

Police spokesman Mr. Ombati says Kenyan and British authorities are cooperating in the probe. He says the investigations may also extend into Uganda and Nigeria.