TEHRAN — When Iran's population doubled to some 60 million between the 1970s and 1980s, it was seen as a problem for a resource-poor country in the throes of a war with Iraq and social revolution at home. Leaders moved to curb this baby boom in the late 1980s by promoting contraception and sterilization.
But now, things have changed again, and a plateauing population — and birth control — are seen by Iran's leaders as a threat to the nation's long-term security.
Iran's rulers now see a big population as a guarantee of a strong country, and consider pollution and water shortages as lesser evils. Senior clerics including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have in recent months denounced birth control, and what Khamenei says morphs, sooner or later, into policy.
Parliament approved the outlines this week of a bill to encourage population growth, including imposing prison terms of between two and five years for "permanent" obstacles to pregnancy, like vasectomy or tubectomy for women.
The Tehran representative Ali Mottahari said this was a response to the "cultural" problem of population decline that is another sign of the adoption of Western lifestyles by Iranians. Sterilization options used since 1989 had gone too far, he declared, and from the average six children per family in the 1980s, the birth rate now was 1.6, the reformist daily Arman reported.
Mottahari described this as below the reproductive "red line" for Iran and "well below" the world average. Some MPs voted against the outline bill, including one who said, you could not "whip" Iranians into having more children.
The West's "cultural onslaught" is a frequent target in Tehran politics, with another member of Parliament Morteza Aqatehrani citing headscarves, satellite TV programs and late marriages as deplorable examples of Western habits permeating society.
He urged parents to "marry your boys and girls young. Don't let them wait, that is the Western culture," the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper reported.
— Ahmad Shayegan
hPhoto : Roshan Norouzi/ZUMA