Australian police say they are now investigating how the unaccompanied minor was able to travel internationally without written approval from his parents. In Australia, children can travel alone internationally with only their passport and any required visas, though many airlines have their own restrictions on unaccompanied minors.
The child and his mother, identified only as “Drew” and “Emma,” explained to Australian broadcaster 9 News how the whole ordeal unfolded, in an exclusive interview with “A Current Affair” that aired Monday.
Feeling retaliatory after a fight with his mother, Drew told the network he took his parents’ credit card and attempted to book flights from Sydney to Bali, where his family has vacationed in the past.
The first two airlines he tried — Garuda Indonesia and Qantas Airways — didn’t allow Drew to board their planes, saying he needed written permission from his parents to fly solo because of his age, according to 9 News.
Drew’s parents said they raised concerns in March with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) after their son’s first attempt to fly to Indonesia by himself.
“We screamed. We begged for help for weeks on end,” Emma told 9 News. “We were told his passport was gonna be flagged.”
An AFP spokesman confirmed to The Washington Post that the agency was notified on March 8 that the boy might attempt to travel internationally from Sydney Airport. However, the agency added they did not place an alert on the boy that would have prevented international travel because he had no criminal record.
“The AFP does not have the power to cancel passports or to request the cancellation of a passport by [the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] if the person holding that passport is not suspected of committing specific criminal offenses,” the agency said in an email.
And so the third time was the charm for Drew, who finally was able to book a flight to Bali on Jetstar Airways, an Australian low-cost carrier. He then took a train to Sydney Airport and used a self-service kiosk to pick up his boarding pass, 9 News reported.
Drew told the network that he simply produced his passport and a student ID to fly first from Sydney to Perth — on the opposite coast of Australia, or roughly the equivalent of flying from Miami to Los Angeles — and then from Perth to Denpasar, the capital of Bali province. Australians do not need a visa to travel to Indonesia; once there, Drew lied to get past Indonesian customs and immigration officials as a minor.
“I said, ‘No, my mum is waiting outside because she lives in Bali and I’m going to meet her outside,’ ” Drew told 9 News. “I was a bit worried, but I still had adrenaline from being so angry at mom just to not care.”
Once past customs, Drew checked into his room at the All Seasons Resort Legian in Bali, which boasts an admittedly 12-year-old-runaway-friendly location that is “only 15 minutes from Ngurah Rai International airport and a short stroll from the famous Legian Beach.” He used his parents’ credit card to pay for his lodging, too, he said.
For four days, he hung out at the resort and its surrounding area, at one point enjoying a beer on the beach — and through it all, ignoring texts and calls on his phone, according to 9 News. In total, Drew’s rebellious trip reportedly cost his parents about $6,100.
Representatives from Jetstar and Accor, which owns the All Seasons Legian hotel in Bali, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday morning. Jetstar has since changed its policies to require parental permission even for minors older than 12 before they can travel by themselves, Agence France-Presse reported.
Meanwhile, Drew’s parents, who are separated, had reported the boy missing in New South Wales, their state in southeastern Australia. In a statement, the AFP said it was working with other law enforcement agencies to try to locate the child between March 8 and March 14 — indicating Drew had left his Sydney home for longer than the four days he was in Bali.
The agency said it “received information that the boy may be in Bali” on March 17 and notified the Indonesian National Police.
“Shocked. Disgusted. There’s no emotion to [describe] what we felt when we found that he left overseas,” Drew’s mother told 9 News.
Drew was taken into custody by Indonesian police on March 18, the AFP said.
In his interview that aired Monday, 9 News took pains not to show Drew’s face as they filmed him recreating the beginning of his trip — stuffing clothes into a backpack emblazoned with the “Santa Cruz Skateboards” logo and riding his scooter away from his house — and talking in a relatively calm manner about his experience.
“It was great, ’cause I wanted to go on an adventure,” Drew told the network.
His mother, Emma, seemed to blame airlines and law enforcement, saying she wanted to see more restrictions that would prevent unaccompanied minors from doing the same thing Drew had.
“He just doesn’t like the word ‘no.’ And that’s what I got, a kid in Indonesia,” Emma said. “It’s too easy. It’s way too easy. There’s a problem within our system.”
Drew’s grandmother, identified only as “Linda,” told 9 News that the 12-year-old was a good kid, despite his hair-raising and expensive rebellion.
“He’s kind. He’s generous. He’s got a heart of gold,” she told the network. “No, there’s no problem with him. He’s just too intelligent for his own self at the moment.”
The AFP said it was reviewing its “current operating procedures” to keep similar incidents from happening in the future.