In 2015, whilst working the hard news beat for several local newspapers, Paula Gruben covered a recent amendment to the law, decriminalising sex between two children aged 12 – 15, or between one child under 16 and another child over 16 where the age difference is less than two years. She also went on to explain the reasoning behind this decision by policy-makers, and some of the societal implications thereof.
When she released Umbilicus a year later, Paula started receiving many messages from teachers and parents, telling her how books like hers are so desperately needed in high schools, and how much it had helped in facilitating dialogue between themselves and their teenagers, around topics which are often considered socially awkward or taboo. Besides adoption, the book covers many other issues pertinent to teenagers, like crisis pregnancy, abortion, teen suicide, self-esteem, and identity.
Paula took her cue and created an educational and inspiring Teen Talk, suitable for girls and boys in Grades 8 – 12.
Paula believes that preaching abstinence before marriage to already sexually active teens is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is outdated, unrealistic, and unhelpful, especially to teens who find themselves facing a crisis pregnancy, and at a terrifying crossroads in their young lives.
Instead, she provides factually sound information on abortion, adoption, fostering, and teen parenthood options, as well as food for thought on how the choices teens make now will impact on every facet of their future wellbeing, over both the short and long term. She is not prescriptive in her advice, and advocates neither a pro-choice nor pro-life stance. Rather, she calls for introspection and critical thinking from the teens themselves, pointing them to geographic-specific resources, like family planning and abortion clinics closest to their school, and encourages ownership of all matters related to their sexual and reproductive health.
At the end of her talk, Paula opens the floor to questions. She lets the teens know they are in a safe space, and that no question is off limits. She is cognisant of the fact these are sensitive topics, and that members of the audience will be coming from different cultural, religious, and family backgrounds. Teachers observing this interactive session will be able to pick up on areas where they feel the teens need more information, and fine-tune the focus of their in-class discussions and debates going forward.
Paula’s talk will particularly resonate with any lost or troubled souls who may be secretly facing seemingly insurmountable challenges in their own lives – to let them know they are not alone, that there is help out there, and hope for healing. She firmly believes if a teen makes a mistake, he/she shouldn’t have to spend the rest of his/her life carrying the burden of that mistake. Everyone deserves a second chance.
One of Paula’s main objectives in sharing her testimony and knowledge is to help reduce not only the number of teen pregnancies, but also the number of teen suicides, backstreet abortions, and the scourge of abandoned babies in South Africa today.