Iran's population drive worries women's rights, health advocates

Tue May 27, 2014 3:56pm EDT
 
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By Michelle Moghtader

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader has called for a population increase, in an edict likely to restrict access to contraception that critics fear could damage women's rights and public health.

In his 14-point decree, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said increasing Iran's 76 million-strong population would "strengthen national identity" and counter "undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles".

"Given the importance of population size in sovereign might and economic progress ... firm, quick and efficient steps must be taken to offset the steep fall in birth rate of recent years," he wrote in the edict published on his website.

Khamenei's order - which must be applied by all three branches of government - in effect replaces the "Fewer Kids, Better Life" motto adopted in the late 1980s when contraception was made widely available.

Since then the birth rate has fallen from 3.2 percent in 1986 to 1.22 percent now, according to the CIA World Factbook. At current fertility rates, Iran's median age is expected to increase from 28 in 2013 to 40 by 2030, according to U.N. data.

But many Iranians are concerned about policy shifts to boost the population, something proposed for years by conservatives, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who favored nearly doubling the population to 120 million, encouraging women to stay home and devote their time to child rearing.

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Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz