Should 13-year-old be allowed to sail solo around the world?
That is the question put to a Dutch court this week. The Dutch Council for Child Protection (the same as Child Protective Services in the U.S.) has gone to court asking for temporary custody of Laura Dekker in order to stop her from setting sail in September.
Laura was born on a boat in New Zealand while her parents were on a round-the-world sailing trip. She spent the first four years of her life on the ocean, and has been sailing since she was six. When she was 11, she spent seven weeks alone at sea.
Laura is now 13 and has the support of her parents. She plans to spend two years sailing her 26 foot boat, Guppy. She’ll keep up with her studies while on board.
The court has scheduled a hearing to consider whether it should step in to what many argue is a family matter. Others say a 13-year-old needs peers and adults and shouldn’t be alone for prolonged periods. Psychologists have expressed concern about her emotional development as well as physical dangers during the extended trip. A decision is expected by the end of October, 2009. At that time, Laura will be 14-years-old.
What do you think? Should parents be stopped when they let their kids engage in risky behavior? Who decides what’s risky or not? Or should the government and courts leave the decision-making to the parents? When should the court step in, if at all? What is the function of Child Protective Services?
Update: As of October, 2009, Laura, who is now 14, decided that she would complete the school year in May, 2010 before starting her trip, if the court allows her to. On October 30, 2009, the court ruled against Laura’s trip, at least for the time being. They kept her under the supervision of Child Protection and set the case to be heard again in July, 2010.
In July, 2010, the Dutch court lifted the ban on Laura’s trip. She is now free to leave at any time – the decision is up to her parents. Laura plans to beat the record set by Australian Jessica Watson in May, 2010 and become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world. On August 21, 2010, Laura set sail from Gibraltar on her year-long quest. She set out early in the morning in her 38-foot boat, Guppy, so as to avoid a media circus. She plans to make stops in a number of ports and can be followed on her web site: http://www.lauradekker.nl/English/Home.html
On January 21, 2012, 16-year-old Laura docked Guppy on the island of St. Maarten completing her 27,000 nautical-mile journey and becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world.