You’ve heard this story I’m sure. Abby Sunderland is lucky to be alive and her parents are lucky not to be in prison for allowing this stunt. She’s a minor and was permitted to engage in behavior that could have killed her. That’s child abuse. Case closed. Here’s the Thor Heyerdahl wannabe in better days before her bone-headed and potentially lethal stunt.
The vessel Wild Eyes was pounded by gigantic waves that destroyed its mast. That in turn knocked out her satellite communications equipment, leaving her yacht bouncing like a cork between Africa and Australia.
Abby Normal (thanks, Mel Brooks) Sunderland activated an emergency which initiated a huge rescue effort involving Australia, America and France. Ships as well as a chartered jet joined the hunt for Lttle Miss Adventurer which spotted the teenager late on Thursday. Abby “Seeing You” was able to radio the plane and say report that was fit and had food and water supplies.
The criticisms have been without surcease. To wit:
Though the search for Sunderland ended happily, it has caused a debate on the wisdom of such young sailors making dramatic and dangerous journeys. Sunderland was following the achievement of her brother, Zac, who had made the solo journey around the world at the age of 17, becoming the youngest person in the world to do so.
Many critics of Sunderland – and her parents – have criticised [sic] the decision to let her go on such a journey. “It’s not something that a 16-year-old should be able to decide whether they’re capable of doing it. It’s potentially irresponsible for the parents,” Michael Kalin, junior director of San Francisco’s St Francis Yacht Club, told the Associated Press.
Other top figures from the world of sailing joined in the criticism. “In Abby’s case she was lucky. It’s only a matter of time until we end up with a tragedy on our hands,” said Derrick Fries, a world sailing champion and author of Learn to Sail.
Such opinions by professionals have been echoed on blogs and comments on news articles as members of the public have called the Sunderlands irresponsible and careless. One commentator on the Los Angeles Times website summed up the view of many: “Abby Sunderland was on the wrong type of boat (a racing yacht) in the wrong location (the southern Indian Ocean) at the wrong time of year (winter in the southern hemisphere). Other than those minor details it was a well-planned voyage.”
Let’s see if we can boil this down. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (42 U.S.C.A. §5106g), as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, inter alia any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.
Abby the Almost Killed’s father (the bloated, drunk with publicity chap supra) had this to say:
“I never questioned my decision in letting her go. In this day and age we get overprotective with our children,” Laurence Sunderland said. “Look at how many teenagers die in cars every year. Should we let teenagers drive cars? I think it’d be silly if we didn’t.”
I certainly concur that some kids have been and are overprotected. The overprotected nature of many parents is stifling to a developing child and it serves to shunt their emotional growth. This isn’t one of those cases. This is an insane set of parents who vicariously enjoys the fruits of Abby’s derring-do. Had that girl drowned in the middle of actual nowhere, this would be a different story.
Adults should be able to do what the want. Kids are different. And, by the by, who’s paying the tab for the rescue services summoned?