Birth Rate Boost? Iranians Get Housing To Have More Children

An Iranian health official has echoed the Supreme Leader's repeated calls to rejuvenate the country's population, and ditch 'Western style' family planning.

Many Iranian families are disinclined to have children given the socio-economic situation

TEHRAN — An adviser to the Iranian Health Ministry recently said every Iranian woman should have four children, to counter "damaging" birth control policies he says have been imposed on Iran. Mohammad Esma'il Akbari, head of the country's Medical Education Association, recently told the local Mizan news agency "destructive population policies' had been imposed "from outside," and were intended to "damage the population structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The state, Akbari said, must rectify its overall population policy and pursue "specific goals," like "a woman having three to four children." The aim, he explained, was not just to boost demographic growth but also to "restructure" the population by making it younger.

Since the 1979 revolution, Islamic Iran has intermittently followed family planning programs, often with the help of counseling from the UN. However, religious conservatives have regularly denounced them, considering a growing population to be a sign of strength, dismissing family planning as culturally invasive.

The state would provide families with incentives like a home after a third child, cash, land or other benefits.

Akbari, a lecturer in medicine at Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University, said the debate on the desirability of population growth has now been settled in Iran, notably with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's support. But the state must engineer this growth with clear policies, he said. Family planners, he urged, "must set four children as their goal" to "restructure" the population.

"All Europeans and Americans' are aiming for that number, he asserted without citing sources or evidence. He rejects the idea that a bigger population would lead to lower living standards.

A family in Eram Zoological Garden in Tehran — Photo: Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

In Iran today, many families are disinclined to have any children, never mind three or four, given the country's current socio-economic conditions. In mid-March, Health Ministry spokesman Alireza Ra'isi said families were now having less than two children, "which means a falling birth rate. Children will have no close relatives in the near future." He said there was nothing "classy" about having one child, who might suffer loneliness or even depression.

Iran's Statistics Center found in March that in 25 of Iran's 31 provinces, people were having less than two children, with an average national rate of 1.7. Figures indicate that the population (of a little over 80 million) grew more slowly in the 1990s, with the rate of decline becoming sharper in recent years.

A population of 80 million means dignity for a country.

Parliament recently passed a Youthful Population and Family Support law, designed to reshape the population over the coming 7 years. If approved by the Guardian Council, a body of jurists that certifies laws, the state would provide families with incentives like a home after a third child, cash, land or other benefits. This would happen regardless of the present economic predicament where families with a single child struggle to make ends meet.

The increasing number of couples having no children at all is becoming a reality that clashes with Khamenei's calls to boost the population of Muslims. The Supreme Leader said in a speech in March 2019 that having children was God's will. A year earlier, he said a "population of 80 million ... means dignity for that country."

In this potentially blossoming population, the Islamic Republic's rulers see a future army to help export their Islamic revolution, or at least bodies to act as cannon fodder. But it seems most of those born after 1979 disagree with the regime, which does mean they are at a greater risk of early death in custody.

Akbari said debates around abortion and underage marriages were also "confusing" this pivotal population issue.

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Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.

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