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Over recent months, controversy has raged in Iran over family planning issues, following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement of a program to increase the birthrate and his statements that the country's population should be 150 million – roughly double its current size – and that families should have more than two children.
In early May 2010, Iranian Supreme Leader 'Ali Khamenei expressed concerns over the country's declining birthrate. The Panjereh weekly quoted Khamenei as telling a political meeting he convened that "the infrastructures and means of the country are enough [for the needs of] a population of over 100 million, such that there is no need to be apprehensive about population growth... Tell your children that they should not worry, and should not be overly concerned about family planning."
A short time after Khamenei made these statements, Ahmadinejad and his spiritual mentor Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi said that there was no justification for reducing the birthrate, and that a family planning policy – that is, control of the birthrate – is a Zionist and Western plot aimed at harming the Shi'ites. Ahmadinejad's statements indicated that the absence of a suitable infrastructure is no reason to refrain from massive population growth.
Previously, in July 2010, Ahmadinejad had announced the establishment of a fund that would award one million Toman (roughly $1,000) for each child born in the Iranian calendar year 1389 (March 2010 to March 2011); in addition, the child would receive an annual payment of 100,000 Toman (approximately $100) that he or she could collect upon turning 18. Ahmadinejad said that the move was aimed at fighting the "imperialist program" of limiting family size to two children.
In August 2010, Iranian state television began airing a commercial showing the father of an infant born during the prescribed period visiting his local bank to claim his million Toman grant after obtaining an identity card for the newborn. The commercial ended with the message, "Get a million Toman for every child born in 1389."
In November 2010, it was reported that the Interior Ministry had instituted a program to encourage young people to marry, offering newlyweds a $300 wedding-gift basket that included bridal beauty services, a car rental for the occasion, wedding photography and video, and the wedding hall and wedding feast. According to Deputy Interior Minister 'Ali Reza Afshar, to date 90,000 couples have benefited from this program.
Ahmadinejad's opponents, who have censured him on other issues that he has promoted, including his economic policy and his Holocaust denial, have also been critical of his policy to increase the birthrate. His critics pointed at Iran's deficient economic and social infrastructures, as well as the current financial difficulties that are preventing young people from marrying and starting families, and wondered how the population could be increased under such circumstances. These critics – reformists, moderates, and conservatives alike, including Majlis members and senior media members – chose to focus their attacks on Ahmadinejad, not Khamenei, whom they fear to criticize.
Family Planning in Iran during the Islamic Revolution
With the establishment of the Islamic Revolutionary regime in Iran (1978-1979), and following the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980, the regime, under instructions from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, began encouraging an increase in birthrate, including economic incentives for large families. By the end of the 1980s, however, the regime reinstituted a family-planning policy, due to the difficulty of meeting the needs of the people and the market.
Under the family planning program, the Islamic regime distributed contraceptives, launched a media campaign, and enlisted the help of clerics, who used their mosque sermons to explain that under certain conditions it was permissible to limit population growth, since Islam considered the economic welfare of Muslims to be of great importance. The regime's efforts were a success; according to Iranian media reports, the rate of natural increase dropped from 3.2% in the 1980s to the current 1.3%-1.5%.
Ahmadinejad: We Can Support a Population of 150 Million
At a November 11, 2010 meeting with senior officials from the northwest Iranian province of Qazvin, Ahmadinejad said that Iran's previous policy of family planning had been "one of [Iran's] greatest mistakes made." He went on to say that this policy had been inspired and initiated by the West, which feared that Iran's population would surpass its own. On November 20, 2010, Ahmadinejad stated that the recommend age for marriage was 16-18 for girls and 20-21 for boys. He added that materialistic concerns such as housing and a livelihood should not stand in the way of marriage, since "marriage itself is what will build [a home]."
Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi, Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, warned that population control policy was a Zionist plot against Shi'ites that won support among Shi'a opponents. Yazdi said that "those who oppose [the Shi'a] in the countries in which they reside are striving to implement the same Zionist policy regarding birthrate... They are striving to increase their segment of the population while encouraging the Shi'ites to control and decrease their own."
On April 8, 2010, the reformist daily Mardom-Salari reported that Ahmadinejad had stated that "at the present time, Iran has the potential to comfortably sustain [a population of] 150 million." In an April 13, 2010 interview on Iranian television, Ahmadinejad expressed regret over the fact that the average Iranian family had fewer than two children. He claimed that this average family size, for which the West was to blame, was too small, and this was detrimental to "the preservation of the nation and its culture." He also complained about the silence on the part of religious circles in the matter, particularly in light of the fact that the Koran says that economic considerations should not be a concern when parents plan their family.At an April 2010 meeting with local officials from across Iran, Ahmadinejad reiterated his stance, pointing out that the West was now also encouraging an increased birthrate, and even increased immigration, having realized that birthrate reduction policies had led to the aging of society as a whole. Saying that, "God will provide the bread," he warned that the "two children are enough' [policy] means that in another 40 years the name of Iran will be no more."
Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh, senior advisor to Ahmadinejad, called for a reevaluation of Iran's population policy, claiming that there was no religious reason for reducing the birthrate for health or education considerations, in light of the Koranic imperative cited by Ahmadinejad. Iranian Welfare Minister Sadeq Mahsouli also expressed his support for the president's stance, saying that the state could handle a population larger than one based on two-children families.
In a July 16, 2010 editorial, the conservative daily Resalat expressed qualified support for increasing the birthrate, saying that although the government could neutralize Western propaganda aimed at curbing population growth in Muslim countries, it did not have sufficient means to persuade the public to bring more children into the world. In the editorial, Resalat criticized the West's population control efforts: "The [Western] propaganda vis-à-vis family planning in Third World countries is immoral. It places great emphasis on sexual relations outside of marriage, as one of the primary factors [that can lead to] a reduced population. Through this immoral propaganda, the West hopes to drive the Third World countries, and especially the Muslim states, into the abyss of moral corruption."
The paper said that Ahmadinejad's emphasis on encouraging a higher birthrate was justified, but that the million Toman his government was offering for each child would hardly be sufficient – unless young people were given other benefits, for example in housing and employment.
Ahmadinejad Fights Family Planning
Nikahang Kosar, www.khodnevis.org, May 1, 2010
Criticism of Ahmadinejad's Program
Qom Official: Ahmadinejad Again Implements a Radical Policy
Mohammad Gharavi, an official at the Qom Seminary Lecturers Association and a student of Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi, said that "the state's poor economic, educational, and health-care circumstances leave [it] no choice but to supervise population growth." He went on to say that the birthrate was one more area that Ahmadinejad had chosen to address with a radical policy. Contrary to Ahmadinejad's claims, he said, adopting a birthrate planning policy did not mean adopting a Western perspective; it was simply a matter of taking the current situation into account.
Majlis Members: There's No Budget For the Program
Majlis Economic Committee Member Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moqaddam voiced opposition to Ahmadinejad's birthrate-increase policy, pointing out that Iran already had high youth unemployment and thus young people simply did not have the resources for marriage and a family. He claimed that by setting a policy on this issue, Ahmadinejad was overreaching his authority, which was limited to "implementing laws and macroeconomic policy, rather than the strategic planning of the [entire economic] system." Mesbahi Moqaddam wondered where the government fund for encouraging a higher birthrate would come from – considering that $1.35 billion would be needed for the 1.3 million children born annually in the country. He insisted that any promises from the president be realistically attainable and grounded in the opinions of experts in the relevant field.
Majlis Planning and Budget Commission chairman Ahmad Tavvakoli called for halting the program, warning that it would have "extremely negative consequences for the state and its future." He said that because some 1,348,000 children were born in 1388 (March 2009-March 2010), the government would have to budget $1.4 billion toward this fund – without taking into account the rate of natural increase for this year."
Criticism was likewise heard from members of the Majlis Health Commission. Member Mas'oud Pezeshkian, who was health minister in the Khatami government, called on the Majlis to act immediately to stop Ahmadinejad's "unprofessional" birthrate-encouragement policy. He said that a population increase would exacerbate problems in the state's education, health, and unemployment infrastructures, and added that unemployment "has reached high percentages amongst young people, and it would be better to forget about a population of 100 million."
Health Commission deputy chairman Hossein 'Ali Shahriari said that the high youth unemployment and the absence of appropriate education and health infrastructures made a policy of population growth encouragement illogical: " There should be no talk of increasing the population before we have set up infrastructure and before we have solved our employment and income problems." He added that while the government in the early days of the Revolution had encouraged a higher birthrate due to the need for young manpower and for soldiers, under current conditions there is no room for encouraging such growth.
A number of other Majlis members also criticized Ahmadinejad's policy. Javad Zamani, spokesman for the Majlis Committee for Social Affairs, said that "increasing the birthrate under the current conditions is illogical, due to the problems the younger generation in Iran faces in the areas of employment, housing, marriage, and [higher] education..." Majlis member Mohammad Taqi Rehbar called Ahmadinejad's policy "dangerous," since "the children born as a result of these slogans will be abandoned in society, and will become depraved drug addicts."
Reformist Daily: Implementing the Program Will Lead to Social Catastrophe
In a June 27, 2010 article in the reformist daily Mardom-Salari attacked Ahmadinejad's policy, as well as Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi's claims that family planning was a Zionist notion. The article, titled "Is Family Planning a Zionist Idea?" cautioned not to discount Ahmadinejad's declarations on the matter, because he was serious and was backed by Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi. The paper warned that encouraging an increased birthrate would likely do serious damage to Iranian society – considering that some citizens were already working two or even three jobs to support their families. Following are the article's main points:
"...Whispers suddenly arose in the Ahmadinejad government: 'What is family planning?' Why should a state capable of [incorporating] 150 million people, instead of 70-80 million, not do so? When these whispers spread to the media, many thought it was a joke... But those criticizing the government were wrong. It slowly became clear that it was no joke, and that there is a real program to encourage an unlimited increase in the country's birthrate regardless of existing family planning policies and laws in the country..."
In criticism of Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi's statements, the article stated: "What will afflict the enemies of Iran and Islam and opponents of the Shi'a more – an Iranian society whose population is average but intelligent, educated, healthy, and honorably employed, or a poverty-stricken state with a massive uneducated population with no health care and rampant unemployment and drug abuse?"
The article went on to warn that Iran lacks the infrastructure to support a policy of encouraging an increased birthrate, and that the policy would increase the number of unemployed, drug addicts, and young people who would not marry due to financial difficulties. It added that such a policy would also lead to more suicides and domestic murders, which had "already reached catastrophic proportions."
The article concluded: "In Iran, and perhaps in other countries, families without average or high income and without sufficient means to supervise and educate their children don't care about family planning. The citizens [of these countries] hold two or three jobs to support a large family, and all they can do is provide a crust of bread for each of their children... In light of this situation, what impact will encouraging a higher birthrate have?"
ILNA: Danger of Population Explosion
An article published by the news agency ILNA warned that Ahmadinejad's program would likely lead to a population explosion: "Thanks to the efforts of family and health planning experts, Iran's population, which was meant to reach 93 million by 1385 [2006-2007], is holding steady today at 70 million. The addition of 23 million to the state's population was prevented, in 1385-1386 alone. But [if Ahmadinejad's policy is implemented] this years-long effort will be abandoned, and if the consequences are not considered, there is a real possibility of a population explosion."
Shafaf: First, Deal With the Economy
The website Shafaf claimed that Ahmadinejad made a mistake when, during a visit to the city of Kashan in May 2010, he set an increased birthrate as a condition for granting its request for becoming a province. Shafaf explained that encouraging the city residents to have more children would not solve their unemployment problem or the problems of young married couples. It stated that the in general Iranians were trending towards single-child families, and that the public would not be persuaded by Ahmadinejad's advocating larger families as long as people felt they could not properly provide for more than two children and prepare them for a good future. It added that if the government wanted a higher birthrate, it first had to resolve the economic problems that make the policy difficult to implement.
The moderate-conservative website Khabar Online said that Ahmadinejad's statements in Kashan were part of "his 11 controversial statements within 76 days." It added, "His capricious statements have reached a new phase..."
Asr-e Iran: Ahmadinejad Should Keep His Previous Promises
In an editorial titled "Mr. Ahmadinejad, Please Settle for [Keeping] Your Promises," the moderate-conservative website Asr-e Iran argued that the president's encouragement of an increased birthrate meant that the children born as a result would be deprived, because their parents would be unable to educate them. It added that by relying on assurances that "God will provide," Ahmadinejad was disregarding the need for providing these children with an education.
The website questioned Ahmadinejad's claims that Western countries are encouraging immigration solely to compensate for their negative natural increase, saying that they were also aimed at attracting workers to fill jobs created as a result of rapid financial growth – while Iran had a surplus of manpower, part of which was forced to find work abroad.
Asr-e Iran demanded that Ahmadinejad explain why Iran needs more workers, in light of economic projections for the coming decades, and concluded: "Mr. Ahmadinejad, we ask you to settle for keeping your election promises, and not to push forward other issues that will delay this. The Iranian people has far graver worries than 'the number of children per family' – an issue that you want to make the country's main concern."
* A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project; Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI.
 The names of those present at the assembly were not made public. Panjereh (Iran), May 4, 2010. Pro-regime Ayatollahs Makarem-Shirazi and Safi Gulpaygani also expressed support for increasing the birthrate. According to Makarem-Shirazi, under shari'a, family planning is permissible only temporarily and only if justified by social considerations. G. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi's Office [sic] website, April 20, 2010, www.makaremshirazi.org/. Ayatollah Safi Gulpaygani had called on the regime to encourage a higher birthrate as early as October 2007. He denied claims of insufficient infrastructures, stating that it was absolutely essential to increase the number of Muslims worldwide. Official Website of Grand Ayatollah Saafi Gulpaygani, October 20, 2007, www.saafi.net/.
 ILNA (Iran), July 27, 2010. It should be noted that the decision to implement this stimulus was approved by the Iranian government in November 2009, but apparently not submitted for Majlis approval. Fars (Iran), November 23, 2009.
 Rooz (Iran), August 17, 2010.
 Jam-e Jam (Iran), November 16, 2010.
 Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a policy of population control through family planning had been implemented, under the slogan "Fewer Children – A Better Life."
 Mehr (Iran), April 17, 2010. An article in the weekly Panjereh placed the current rate of natural increase in Iran at 1.5%. Panjereh (Iran), May 4, 2010.
 Fars (Iran), November 11, 2010.
 Tehran-e Emrooz (Iran), November 22, 2010.
 ISNA (Iran), November 20, 2010.
 ILNA (Iran), May 31, 2010.
 Mardom-Salari (Iran), April 8, 2010.
 Borna (Iran), April 14, 2010.
 Shafaf (Iran), April 29, 2010. On another occasion, Ahmadinejad criticized the slogan "Fewer Children – A Better Life," stating that a number of Western countries which had employed this policy in the past were now advocating an increased birthrate, and had even been forced to encourage immigration. He said, "Nothing will be left of their populations in another 30 years." Javan (Iran), April 27, 2010.
 ILNA (Iran), April 14, 2010.
 Tabnak (Iran), April 17, 2010.
 Resalat (Iran), June 16, 2010.
 Mardom-Salari (Iran), April 17, 2010.
 Mehr (Iran), April 17, 2010.
 ISNA (Iran), August 1, 2010.
 Aftab (Iran), April 14, 2010.
 Mardom-Salari (Iran), June 27, 2010.
 ILNA (Iran), April 19, 2010.