Girl, 13, told to delay solo sailing voyage by courts

Dutch teenager's plans to attempt solo sailing world record halted by courts
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The Independent Online

The parents of a Dutch teenager could be stripped of their parental rights after they chose to support their thirteen year old daughter's plans to sail around the world alone.

Laura Dekker wants to break a world record for the youngest solo sailing mission, currently held by a 17-year-old American. But that would mean facing the prospect of extreme danger as well as a two-year leave of school, something she plans to overcome by remote learning through internet and email.

The girl's parents, who are both keen sailors, originally supported her plans. But Dutch child protection agencies intervened to suspend parental custody after her parents applied to take her out of school for two years.

The case, being heard in a civil court in Utrecht, is dividing opinion across the Netherlands. The journey was originally planned for 1 September, but is now highly unlikely to meet that schedule as the family await the outcome of the case, expected this week.

Outside the courtroom, the case has led to a growing rift between the parents and social welfare officers.

"By travelling solo for two years, this teenager's basic needs would not be met," said Richard Bakker, a spokesman for the youth protection services. "Yet the father continues to insist that his daughter will depart on 1 September. That is worrying which is why we have asked to the court to intervene."

But Dick Dekker, Laura's father who earlier this year applied unsuccessfully for his daughter to be exempt from obligatory schooling, remains undeterred. "We realise that it is a dangerous undertaking," he told a local newspaper. "But a court which knows nothing about Laura will decide. We would not let our child do something of which she was not in complete control."

In a recent written report to parliament, the Dutch education deputy minister Marja van Bijsterveldt-Vliegenthart said the voyage "would not be in the interests of the child".

Laura has recently said: "My parents always knew it was a dream of mine to do this. I want to do it while I'm still young so that I can break the record. Since I was 10 I had this idea I could do a tour of the world. I simply want to discover the world and have a taste of freedom."