Drew had already made two attempts to run away from his home in Sydney to the Indonesian holiday island of Bali. Just a few months into his first year in high school, the 12-year-old was street-smart and knew how to navigate the internet and public transport. Having been to Bali every year for holidays, he also knew the drill when it came to airports and had watched his parents book holidays online.
“He’s always been active and outgoing,” his mum, Emma, told Guardian Australia on Friday. “His brother and sister are older and so he’s always thought if they can do it, he can do it. He doesn’t get that part. He is hyperactive. But he has a heart of gold.”
Drew (not his real name) had had a tough time of late, said Emma, who broke up with her husband last year. He had also been bullied at school and was receiving counseling.
Emma learned about the first escape attempt when she got an alert on her credit card account. She rang her bank to inquire and was told Drew had booked himself a one-way ticket from Sydney to Bali and a week’s accommodation at his favorite holiday resort on the island.
“I called the police on him so he’d get dealt with,” Emma said. “I mean, he stole my money. I didn’t know at that stage that the payment had gone through … Then he went to school, and he didn’t come back so I reported him to the police again and they found him near the airport. An Australian federal police officer told me they would flag his passport and not to worry as he would never get past authorities and on to a plane.
Emma says she locked her credit card and had no idea the A$3,000 (£1,600) he had spent had been approved. She said she trusted the authorities when they said Drew could never get out of the country on his own. But days later, while Drew was staying at his grandparents, Drew tricked his grandmother into giving him his passport, and told her that he was leaving for school as usual.
Instead, having packed his backpack and collected his skateboard and some cash he’d saved up from mowing lawns, he headed for the airport. Staff at the airline for his first attempted flight refused his check-in attempt as he didn’t have a letter of support from his mother, so he got a refund and bought a ticket on another flight – no questions asked – to Perth.
After three days, a friend alerted her to a social media post saying Drew was in Bali, but she didn’t believe it. She called people she knew in Bali who confirmed they had seen him.
Foreign affairs officials, who had asked Indonesian police to collect Drew from the hotel, said Drew’s parents would have to fly to Bali to bring him home. It cost the family another A$8,000 to collect him.
Now Emma is speaking out about the loopholes that exist in the airline industry and border control that enable an unaccompanied child to leave the country with no questions asked.
“Child trafficking was my number-one fear,” Emma said. “I was so stressed. I was living in a twilight zone. I couldn’t believe what was happening. No one rang me when we brought him home to see if he was OK.
“He’s very sorry and he’s very remorseful, but I don’t think he understands the magnitude of what he’s actually done.”
Source&image: The Guardian