14-year-old Dutch girl Laura Dekker to sail solo around the world

July 27th, 2010 - 8:48 pm ICT by BNO News  

Laura Dekker MIDDELBURG (BNO NEWS) — A Dutch court on Tuesday decided that a 14-year-old girl will be allowed to sail solo around the world, despite protests from child welfare organizations.

Last year, then-13-year-old Laura Dekker was placed into state custody after she announced plans to become the youngest person to sail solo around the globe. Child welfare organizations then put forward a plan she had to complete before she would be able to make the journey.

But, child welfare organizations eventually came at odds over the case and one of the two organizations demanded a two-month extension of her guardianship. Both organizations, however, agreed that Laura had complied with all the requirements that were initially put forward.

The court in the southern city of Middelburg said on Tuesday that it would end state custody of the teenager with immediate effect, saying she complied with all the requirements put forward by child welfare authorities. The court also said they had found no evidence that Laura’s maturation would be at risk if she carried out the attempt.

“The court also concludes that both parents are denying any professional help which is not focused on Laura’s sailing plans,” the court said in a statement. “Further extension of the state custody will therefore not contribute to Laura’s maturation.”

The court further said that, with Tuesday’s decision, Laura’s parents are now responsible for her. “It is up to them to decide if Laura can begin her solo trip.”

Laura and her family - who were not in court when the decision was announced - welcomed the decision. She and her father were in her boat called “Guppy” when their lawyer called them to announce the news.

“She got up and hugged the mast,” Riek Dekker, Laura’s grandmother, told Dutch radio station Q-music shortly after the decision was announced. Riek said the decision was a huge relief for the family.

She said Laura is now preparing for her journey, which will begin within a few days at the earliest. But it may take a week or two to get ready for the trip.

Riek said Laura plans to travel to Portugal together with her father to prepare for the trip and to make sure the ship is in good shape. She will then continue her journey alone.

The grandma is also writing a book about the case, and said the decision was a good conclusion to her book. “It now has a happy end,” she said. Riek said Laura’s case was not handled correctly by child welfare organizations and the court, and said she would detail that in her book.

Laura’s father has supported his daughter since she first announced her plans, but her mother - Babs Müller - was initially against it. She later changed her position, however, and strongly criticized child welfare organizations.

Muller said one of the child welfare protection organizations was trying to destroy Laura. “She is not a criminal, she just wants to sail,” she said in a recent letter to a Dutch newspaper.

The mother said the organizations were sending depressing e-mails and were saying bad things. “Until Laura is completely broken. Her computer and phone are being checked by the government, in the hope she will say or write something bad. It is too bad for words.”

She said she initially thought the organizations were trying to help her daughter. “But it’s not about Laura for them, that is clear to me now.” Muller said the organizations were spreading lies to clear their own name.

“Slowly my trust in [the child protection organizations] was fading away. I have talked hours with my daughter and I don’t know how people can do something like that to a teenager. This is not child protection, this is child abuse.”

Muller said she now supported her daughter in making the trip around the world. “I know she can do it, she’s a strong girl and doesn’t give up. Of course no mother on Earth likes it when her child goes out to sea. I’ll be unable to sleep, but this is about Laura and how I can help her.”

Currently, now-17-year-old Jessica Watson is the youngest person to have sailed solo around the world. She completed her journey at the age of 16, several days before she turned 17.

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