The Iranian government, already burdened by Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program, is again encouraging young couples in the country to have more children in order to cope with the kind of aging demographics that currently plague Western Europe and Japan.
Teheran officials, who have spearheaded a door-to-door campaign to spread a health education propaganda drive, want to spark a baby boom that would double the Iranian population to about 150 million.
The Daily Telegraph reported that no less than 150,000 health workers have mobilized for the ambitious project, literally knocking on the doors of homes to encourage single-child families to have more offspring.
Medical universities have also been recruited to help with the process of encouraging Iranian families to be more fruitful and multiply.
The new policy dramatically reverses a birth control program the government introduced in the early 1990s, which provided contraceptives and family-planning lessons to couples across Iran over fears the population was climbing too quickly since the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
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By 1986, seven years after the revolution, Iran’s population was growing by 3 percent annually, one of the highest rates in the world (by 2011, that figure dropped to 1 percent, according to the United Nations).
Mohammad Ismail Motlagh, general manager of the health ministry’s family, school health and population program, told the Telegraph that the phenomenon of single-child families in Iran is leading to “social and emotional problems.”
“In the marriage training course, we have focused more on the child-producing, because the single-child issue has caused so many problems and provoked much debate,” Motlagh told the Fars news agency.
Last year, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for the elimination of a government population control program that was designed to reduce fertility rates.
Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi, program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Population Reference Bureau, a private nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., noted that, between 1977 and 2000, Iran’s fertility rate plunged from 6.6 births per woman to 2 in 2000, then slipped to 1.9 births in 2006.
“The decline was particularly striking in rural areas, where the average number of births per woman dropped from 8.1 to 2.1 in a single generation,” Roudi-Fahimi wrote, adding that European countries took about 300 years to experience a similar decline.
Now, like Japan and Western Europe, the Iranian population is quickly aging.
Between the mid-1970s and 2012, the median age in Iran jumped from 18 to 28 in 2012 and is further expected to increase to 40 by 2030. As such, the Tehran regime believes the population control programs from decades ago are no longer needed. (All this has occurred apparently without significant numbers of abortions, which have been illegal in Iran since 1979.)
Two years ago, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered financial incentives to spur more families with multiple children -- under this program, each newborn baby received a $950 deposit in a government bank account. That amount increases by $95 each year until the child turned 18. At age 20, the young man or woman can access the funds to pay for education, marriage, health and housing.
But Roudi-Fahimi is skeptical the new policy will work, partly because small family size is now “enshrined in the psyche” of both men and women.
“The public is now used to having control over reproductive rights and may continue to do so, whether through government-sponsored health services or the private sector,” she wrote.
She cited that in 2012 almost three-fourths (74 percent) of married women in Iran between the ages of 15 to 49 practiced some form of family planning, 60 percent used one form of contraception or another, and one-third depend on female or male sterilization (rates are similar to those found in the U.S.).
Moreover, since 1979, the number of Iranian women going to universities has skyrocketed -- as in the West, educated Iranians are pushing back the timetable of getting married and having children, thereby making it more unlikely that they would have large families.
“The majority of Iranian women live a modern lifestyle,” Roudi-Fahimi wrote.
“And increasing numbers are also active in politics too. Many women active on reproductive rights issues have been at the forefront of the democracy movement, organizing petitions and taking to the streets to demand even more rights.”
Iranian couples also are dissuaded from expanding their families due to soaring inflation.
“Another baby is a financial burden -- the cost of midwifery, powdered milk and, later on, kindergarten," Mahnaz Mahjouri, a psychologist, told the Los Angeles Times.
"The new values are to be a working wife, not a housewife and mother. Families cannot afford economically more than one child or maximum two, so the views about mothering are changing."
Reza Ali Mohammadi, an Iranian man in Teheran with two young sons, also complained about the high costs of education.
"A simple and primitive kindergarten charges you $150 for each child per month, while the average salary for a skilled worker is less than $500," he told the paper. "So how can I afford to have three children?"