AP: 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 Associated Press
By Nasser Karimi
TEHRAN (AP) – 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 could not afford to have more than two children with his salary of about $220 a month.
“I cannot afford daily life,” he said. “I have to support my wife and two children as well as my elderly parents.”
More than half of Iran’s population is under 35 years old. Those youth form the base of opposition groups, including the so-called Green Movement that led unprecedented street protests after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in 2009. Some experts have said that trying to boost the numbers for forthcoming 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.
After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, families were strongly encouraged to contribute to a baby boom demanded by leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who wanted fast population growth to contribute to a “20 million member army” in support of the ruling theocracy. In 1986, toward the end of the eight-year war with Iraq, census figures show the population’s growth rate reached 3.9 percent – among the highest in the world at the time and in line with Persian traditions that favor big families.
But the leadership just as quickly hit the brakes in the 1990s, fearing a galloping population could overwhelm the economy. Iran became a regional leader in family-planning options, including offering free or subsidized condoms and other contraceptives, and issuing religious edicts in favor of vasectomies. One clinic in Tehran promoted its vasectomy services in huge letters atop a water tower.