December 6, 2021

With fewer babies and more elderly, Iran pulls out the stops to promote births

Iran’s new “Law on Family and Youth Support” is a clear example of how different perspectives colour news coverage.

Iran’s theocratic, authoritarian and anti-Israel regime has few friends internationally. So global headlines reflect a dim view of the new legislation, which severely restricts access to abortion, contraception, and voluntary sterilization. “The Iranian Government is taking further steps to use criminal law to restrict the rights of women, for the sake of increasing the number of births, which will effectively force many women and girls to continue unwanted pregnancies to term which would be inherently discriminatory”, United Nations experts declared.

A headline on the Kurdish website RUDAW said that it was a “clear contravention of international law”; in The Times of Israel, it was “UN experts warn it will limit women’s rights”; in Radio Free Europe (an American government website), it was “’It’s My Decision’: Iran’s New Population Law Blasted For Restricting Access To Contraceptives, Abortions”.

However, official Iranian media set out the underlying reason for their government’s decision: an alarming slide in the birthrate. In fact, The Teheran Times did not even mention abortion. Here are some of the incentives in the legislation for having more children:

  • health insurance for infertile couples
  • services for working women
  • health and nutrition support packages
  • educational opportunities for student mothers
  • livelihood support for families
  • medical services for pregnant women
  • discounts for families with three or more children
  • promotions for employees with three to five children
  • 9 months’ maternity leave on full pay
  • free infertility treatment
  • special housing loans for young couples to encourage young people to get married
  • a 20% discount for tutoring for school children
  • free quality natural childbirth in state-run hospitals
  • all government agencies are expected to promote the “positive and valuable aspects of marriage
  • advertisements should feature families with 3 or more children
  • a “National Population Youth Award” for institutions which help to raise the birthrate
  • government media outlets must promote child-bearing and denounce celibacy, contraception and abortion. Ten percent of programming must be devoted to promoting an increase in the population.

The Iranian government is clearly spooked by a 550,000 fall in the number of annual births between 2016 and 2021.

The demographic implosion began after the Iran-Iraq War, in the 1990s. The government encouraged small families because experts warned of a population explosion. It succeeded all too well. Nowadays Iran’s fertility rate is 1.6 children per woman; in 1986 it was 6.5. It has one of the fastest rates of ageing in the world.

Mohammad Esmaeil Akbari, a senior advisor to the minister of health, told The Teheran Times that: “Currently, the elderly constitutes less than 10% of the population and we are considered a young country, but we are getting older every year so that in the next 20 years, we will be one of the oldest countries in the world and the oldest by the next 30 years.”

Other countries have attempted to raise the birth rate with financial and social incentives. But probably none of them has gone as far as Iran.