Listen to the story.
Marco Werman: First to Iran. It’s considering restrictions on birth control. Iran wants to legislate a population boost. Rana Rahimpour is with the BBC’s Persian service. She explains what the Iranian government plans to get the country’s birth rate up.
Rana Rahimpour: There are many different topics that have been covered in this proposed legislation but one is a ban on all surgeries intended for permanent contraception; punishment for doctors that would conduct these kinds of procedures. It’s asking for the government to stop funding for birth control programs. It instructs private and public entities to put priority on men and women who have children, and it’s trying to tighten divorce laws.
Werman: And does it say why all these measures are going to be taken?
Rahimpour: Yes, the supreme leader of Iran a few years ago decided that they have to have a U-turn because for about two decades they have been trying to control birth rate in Iran. Then they realized that they are going to face a crisis in a few decades with an aging population. He said that we have to try to double the population of Iran so that it should go up to 150 million, because right now it’s about 77-78 million. That’s why parliament is going to introduce these new measures in order to encourage people to have more babies.
Werman: So, Iran is facing a very aging population. When you walk through the streets of Tehran, is that visible?
Rahimpour: Not yet, but in a few decades. In the early “˜80s, because the religious leaders encouraged people to have more children, we had a baby boom. I was born in the early “˜80s, so I was a part of that baby boom. Then they realized that they had to contain it, that it was sustainable. Back then, we had a 4% growth in the population, so every year about two million babies were being born and it was just getting out of control. So, that’s why they then introduced new measures to contain this, which lasted for about 20 years. Now the baby boom generation is in their 30s and 40s, but once they become 70 and 80 and they retire, because it has slowed down, there won’t be enough young people to provide for the elderly generation then.
Werman: Is there public support for this law?
Rahimpour: Not really, because the reason people don’t have babies--they would love to have families and babies--is because they can’t afford it. One of the reasons is sanctions, a very high rate of unemployment; the official figure is about 10% on unemployment, but unofficial statistics say it’s about 25% unemployment among the youth. The sanctions, it means that people don’t feel stable enough to have families, and if they do then they wouldn’t have more than one child. Otherwise if they could have afforded it, they would love to have a bigger family but right now it’s impossible and it’s not going to help to dictate anything from the top.
Werman: Does it follow that if a nuclear deal happens, sanctions would be lifted and then Iranians would feel more comfortable to have babies? Does the government see the nuclear deal in that way?
Rahimpour: I don’t think that’s what they’re worried about in this stage, and that will take a couple of years; even if they reach a nuclear deal, it will take a few years for the economy to get back on its feet. So, it won’t happen overnight. Another reason why the birth rate has become very low compared to the beginning of the revolution is because women are more educated now, they’re very independent, they want to have jobs outside their homes and they don’t see themselves as baby making machines. They want to have a role in society, so they can’t simply have five or six kids, which is what the government wants them to do. So, I don’t think that by just lifting these sanctions, women will suddenly decide to have more than one or two babies.
Werman: Rana Rahimpour with BBC Persian. Thank you very much.
Rahimpour: Thank you.