Dutch court orders yacht girl, 13, into state care

Report ordered into hazards of allowing teenager on circumnavigation

A court in Utrecht yesterday becalmed the plans of a 13-year-old Dutch girl to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

In a case which has generated worldwide debate about parental responsibility – and parental pushiness – the court placed Laura Dekker under the guardianship of childcare officials for two months.

She will continue to live with her father until psychologists report in October on the possible mental and physical hazards of allowing such a young person to sail the seas alone for two years in a 26ft boat.

Laura was not in court to hear the judgement. She was out sailing. Her father, Dick Dekker, was in court but declined to comment. The family's lawyer, Peter de Lange, said the ruling was "acceptable" because it allowed Laura to live at home and did not rule out the possibility that she could eventually make the voyage.

The three judges had decided that you are not necessarily "a bad parent if you try to help your child fulfil her dream", he said.

Richard Bakker, the spokesman for the Dutch Council for Child Protection, said he was "satisfied" with the judgement. Laura was born on a yacht in New Zealand while her now estranged parents were on a round-the-world tour. She spent the first four years of her life at sea and is generally recognised to be an accomplished sailor well beyond her years.

Her solo exploits have landed her in hot water before. She was held by police in Lowestoft last year after she arrived there alone in her yacht, Guppy. The British authorities telephoned her father who refused to come to get her until they threatened to place her in a children's home. He then allowed her to sail back to the Netherlands alone, ignoring a police request that he should sail with her.

Social workers had argued that Laura was too young to understand the dangers of sailing alone around the world and the isolation alone would be damaging at an important time in her mental and physical development.

Laura was to have "self-schooled" while aboard her yacht but the junior Dutch education minister, Marja van Bijsterveldt, had told the Dutch Parliament that she opposed this plan.

The family lawyer, Mr de Lange, rejected suggestions that her education would suffer. "Where do you learn more, on a two-year trip or at high school?" he said.

The judges said that they believed that Laura's "psychological development and her health could be endangered" if she was allowed to depart as scheduled next month. "She would be confronted with difficult situations that will challenge her mentally and physically," they said.

The court decided not to forbid the trip, or remove her from her father's home, until it heard the psychological reports in October. Laura's German mother is reported to have given her approval to the voyage.

Mr de Lange said that Laura would still go ahead with the trip if the court gave its go-ahead in October (when she will be aged 14). She would probably start her journey in Portugal to avoid autumn storms in the Bay of Biscay.

If she completes the round-the-world trip, Laura would break the youth record that was set on Thursday by the 17-year-old British yachtsman, Mike Perham who completed the 28,000-mile trip in nine months.

What would happen in Britain?

*It is critical to balance a young person's right to make choices with the need to protect them from harm. Young people mature at different rates but it is generally assumed under British law that once they have reached age 16 they are competent to make most decisions for themselves.

At age 13, the issue is more complex as at this age, the young person may not fully appreciate the dangers of his or her choices. Under British law, parents remain responsible for their child however competent and capable the child may be. There is, therefore, a duty on parents and on society as a whole to ensure that a young person does not suffer serious harm.

The judgement of the Dutch court in this case, to order temporary guardianship by the state until Laura Dekker's competence can be assessed, seems to be a sensible and balanced decision.

However capable and mature the young person may be, it is right to make as sure as possible that the task she wishes to undertake will not result in her suffering serious harm of whatever kind.

Julia Thomas, senior solicitor for the Children's Legal Centre

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones