Iran is trying to avoid the aging problems many Western nations face.
Iran’s new message to parents: Get busy and have babies.
In a major reversal of once-far-reaching family planning policies, authorities are now slashing its birth-control programs in an attempt to avoid an aging demographic similar to many Western countries that are struggling to keep up with state medical and social security costs.
The changes — announced in Iranian media last week — came after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the country’s wide-ranging contraceptive services as "wrong." The independent Shargh newspaper quoted Mohammad Esmail Motlaq, a Health Ministry official, as saying family planning programs have been cut from the budget for the current Iranian year, which began in March.
It’s still unclear, however, whether the high-level appeals for bigger families will translate into a new population spike. Iran’s economy is stumbling under a combination of international sanctions, inflation and double-digit unemployment. Many young people, particularly in Tehran and other large cities, are postponing marriage or keeping their families small because of the uncertainties.
Ali Reza Khamesian, a columnist whose work appears in several pro-reform newspapers, said the change in policy also may be an attempt to send a message to the world that Iran is not suffering from sanctions imposed over the nuclear program that the West suspects is aimed at producing weapons — something Tehran denies.
Abbas Kazemi, a doorman in a private office building, said he cannot afford to have more than two children with his salary of about $220 (4.2 million rials) a month.
"I cannot afford daily life," he said. "I have to support my wife and two children as well my elderly parents."
More than half of Iran’s population is under 35 years old. Those youths form the base of opposition groups, including the so-called Green Movement that led unprecedented street protests after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009. Some experts have said that trying to boost the numbers for upcoming generations also could feed future political dissent.
"Young people are the heart of the Arab Spring, or the Islamic Awakening as Iran calls it," said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center based in Geneva. "Countries that haven’t faced major protests during the Arab Spring still have to be mindful that the demands of the youth are still there."
The policy shift brings the country full circle.