Friday, August 28, 2009

Laura Dekker's solo voyage around the world is on hold


The Utrecht district court On Friday put 13-year-old Laura Dekker under the supervision of a youth welfare organisation, but it stopped short of divesting parental authority.

With the support of her parents, Laura wants to sail around the world solo for the next two years and become the youngest person ever to do so. But the Child Protection Authority filed for custody over Laura in order to stop her.

Laura's lawyer Peter de Lange has advised her to stay ashore for now, and cooperate with the two-month investigation the juvenile court has ordered.

Laura herself was not present at the court in Utrecht. "Because of the media madness. You can't do that to a young girl," De Lange said.

Dozens of reporters, photographers and camera crews from the Netherlands and abroad showed up at the ruling. Laura's father and caretaker Dick Dekker attended, but he let his lawyer do the talking.

The court said a solo sailing voyage around the world deviates so far from what is normal for a 13-year-old girl that it could be a severe threat to her development. It also voiced doubts that she will be able to sustain the extreme conditions on the oceans.

However, it also said that "parents have a large degree of freedom when it comes to raising and looking after their children. Only in exceptional situations is the government allowed to intervene."

The court ruled this is not a case of "gross neglect" and chose not to divest parental authority. "The way Laura's father raises her has been the topic of intense public debate, but that doesn't make him a bad father," the court said.

Laura lives on a boat with her father. Her parents are separated and her mother and younger sister Kim live in another part of the Netherlands. The mother has chosen to stay out of the picture, but she did give a statement before the court explaining she considered the plan "scary", but doesn't want to stand in her daughter's way.

For the next two months her parents' authority will be limited by the provisional supervision of a youth welfare organisation. A guardian will be appointed to make all the important decisions for the girl, such as matters of schooling, heath and - of course - traveling around the world on a boat.

The Child Protection Authority will investigate Laura over the next two months and the court has assigned her an independent child psychologist who will investigate whether the teenager can deal with the psychological pressure and if she would be able to educate herself on board.

Laura's case was brought to public attention by a school official who observed that Laura would be missing school for two years. All Dutch children are obliged by law to attend school until they are 16 years of age. Their parents are required to ensure they are enrolled in school and actually attend classes.

Based on the results of the investigation, the court will rule again in October. It is then up to the CPA to demonstrate why it believes Laura should not be allowed to make the journey.

Laura initially planned to leave the Netherlands around September 1 in order to break the world-record set by 17-year-old Mike Perham, who completed his trip on Thursday.

Dekker and her father had also said they would deregister her from the Netherlands to circumvent the Dutch authorities, but officials in New Zealand - of which she is also a citizen - have said they too would try to stop her.

Her lawyer said she now plans to depart from Portugal if the supervision is terminated in two months, in order to avoid the heavy storms in the Bay of Biscay during the fall.

"If Laura ends up winning this case, she can be an example to all young athletes," De Lange said.

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