- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dangerous seas

A 13-year-old Dutch girl wants to become the youngest person to sail the world, but her government may not let her.

In one of the odder fights between parental authority and state welfare regulators, social workers in the Netherlands are taking legal action to make Laura Dekker a ward of the state. They hope to prevent her from risking her life on the high seas in her bid to break American Zac Sunderland’s world record set at the age of 17.

The Dutch Council for Child Protection says the endeavor threatens Laura’s safety as well as emotional development since she could be alone for up to three weeks at a time on the voyage. Her father, Dick Dekker, is an accomplished seaman who supports his daughter’s dream and says she is experienced enough to make the trip, which took Zac 13 months.

The council wonders whether Laura’s father, who is divorced from her mother, has been a bad influence on the young girl by convincing her to do such a dangerous thing. Richard Bakker, spokesman for the Dutch council, told The Washington Times by phone that “We are concerned about the development of a 13-year-old child; her brain has not grown to the maximum so that she can see all the impact of her decisions.

“Is she doing it because she likes to please her parent? We would like to give the 13-year-old the chance to go to school, to have friends and to have a roof over her head,” he said.

While the social workers question Mr. Dekker’s fatherhood skills, Dr. Meg Meeker, author of “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” thinks Laura’s desire to become an accomplished sailor, like her father, is a sign of a healthy relationship.

“If she had an unhealthy relationship with her father, she wouldn’t want to be walking in his footsteps; she may feel close to her dad and want to imitate him,” she said. “My overall take is that this is happening because she wants to please her dad and that’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.”

However, although Dr. Meeker is wary of government intervention, she did agree that “from a cognitive standpoint, this is not a girl who can understand risk the way an adult could in terms of maturity.”

Laura has not spoken publicly about her plans, except for an interview with a Dutch TV news program.

“Since I was 10 years old, I’ve known that I would like to sail around the world,” she said. “I want simply to learn about the world and to live freely.”

Laura’s quest brings to mind the tragic ending to another father-daughter team dream. Seven-year-old Jessica Whitney Dubroff wanted to become the youngest person to fly across the United States. The American girl was killed in a plane crash in 1997 along with her father and flight instructor.

A Dutch court will rule Friday morning whether the government will take custody of Laura.

Undeterred, the Dekkers are exploring other options. Fortunately for Laura, she was not born in the Netherlands. Her German mother gave birth to her during a global sailing trip with Mr. Dekker in New Zealand. She now is seeking a passport from New Zealand to avoid obstacles posed by the Dutch government.

Mr. Bakker also noted that Laura, because of her mother’s German citizenship, would be able to pursue residency in that country as well.

Time out

A powerful opponent of Democratic health care plans is taking some time off in light of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s passing.

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights announced Wednesday it “is immediately suspending our ad campaign for health care reform out of respect for the Kennedy family as well as the senator’s colleagues and supporters, to whom we extend our condolences.”

Divine intervention?

Gov. Charlie Crist, Florida Republican, revealed to a group of real estate agents last week that he put prayer notes into the Western Wall in Jerusalem asking God to prevent hurricanes from striking his state.

He said that when he traveled to Israel in 2007 he wrote a plea to put into the wall that said, “Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.” He made the same request in a 2008 note that he asked state Sen. Nan Rich to put into the wall for him when she traveled to the wall.

Mr. Crist did it this year, too. He said a friend went there in May who delivered the message for Mr. Crist.

Since placing the messages no major storms have hit Florida, although Mr. Crist says his messages had nothing to do with it. He told reporters after the event, “I give that to God, but it’s nice.”

A puppy cut

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican, wants a tax cut for pet owners.

He introduced a bill before leaving for August recess to allow pet owners to deduct up to $3,500 per year to offset the costs of caring for pets, which includes veterinary bills.

The Humanity and Pets Partnered through the Years Act - called the Happy Act for short - says that the “human-animal bond has been shown to have positive effects upon people’s emotional and physical well-being.” To qualify for the proposed tax cut a person must own a “qualified pet” defined as a “legally owned, domesticated, live animal.”

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@ washingtontimes.com

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