Iran ends provision by state of contraceptives and vasectomies

Government move to boost birth rate does not affect pharmacies or private hospitals

Iran’s state hospitals and clinics are no longer performing vasectomies or giving out contraceptives in an attempt to revive flagging population growth, a senior health official has told state media.

Iranian women were now having 1.7 children on average, well below the 2.2 required to maintain the population, Hamed Barakati, director general of the Ministry of Health’s Office of Population and Family Health, told the Islamic Republic News Agency in an interview on Sunday. On current trends about a third of the country would be over 60 years old by 2050. “Whether we like it or not … we will become an ageing country,” he said.

Family planning procedures and products would continue to be available from pharmacies and private hospitals, however, and in public hospitals to women whose life was at risk, Barakati said.

Conservatives in Iran’s government, including the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have been pushing citizens to have more children for at least a decade, by limiting access to family planning services, increasing the number of infertility clinics and telling Iranians it is safe to have children every 18 to 24 months – down from earlier advice to wait three to five years. Maternity leave was extended to nine months and fathers given two weeks off as part of a suite of reforms in 2013.

Yet birth rates have kept falling, which Barakati blamed on poor economic conditions that deterred men from committing to marriage and a family. “The young man will not be willing to marry or have children, even if we give him a loan, as long has he does not feel secure,” he said.

Women delaying marriage to pursue higher education as well as a cultural aversion to having more than two children were also factors the government needed to address, he added. The average Iranian has her first child at 29, compared to around age 26 for an American.

Hardliners have made the birth rate a national security issue and claimed foreign enemies have helped engineer the decline. Demography researchers have been arrested and accused of manipulating fertility statistics to try to hide the scale of the “population crisis”, according to state media.

Khamenei has cast the falling birth rate as the result of imported western thinking and said the country of 80 million should aspire to a population nearly twice that size.

Iran was lauded in the late 1990s for family planning policies that slashed the country’s birth rate from around seven children per woman in 1980 to fewer than two by 2011.

It did so with progressive initiatives including subsidised vasectomies, free condoms and cheap contraceptives, and countrywide education on sexual health and family planning with the slogans “Two children is enough” and “Fewer kids, better life”.

The falling fertility rates were encouraged by the country’s clerical rulers who worried that massive population growth during the 1980s – when families were encouraged to strengthen the wartorn country by producing “soldiers for Islam” – would stretch resources and lead to high unemployment in the future.

Rights groups have been critical of previous attempts to boost Iran’s birth rate, arguing they risk raising new barriers to women’s entry into the workforce and turning them into “baby-making machines”. Women make up 60% of Iranian university students but have one of the lowest labour force participation rates in the world.

Public-health officials have also warned that attempts to fight Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases would be set back by restricting condoms and other contraceptives.


Michael Safi

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Vasectomies: turning an 'act of love' into a global movement
We can’t tackle soaring global populations and massive environmental challenges without getting men involved in family planning

Patrick Adams

22, Sep, 2016 @7:47 AM

Article image
Iran aims to ban vasectomies and cut access to contraceptives to boost births
Amnesty International says bills to reverse progressive family planning laws would reduce Iranian women to ‘baby-making machines’

Saeed Kamali Dehghan

11, Mar, 2015 @12:01 AM

Article image
The student sex 'scandal' that laid bare Egypt’s population problem | Ruth Michaelson
The furore caused by a student project on sex education highlights the attitudes that have hampered Egypt as it attempts to deal with overpopulation

Ruth Michaelson in Cairo

11, Aug, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Experts urge Egypt to rethink two-child population strategy
Medics say limiting families not the answer for a country where a baby is born every 15 seconds

Ruth Michaelson in Cairo

03, Jan, 2019 @1:37 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson ends Iran visit without agreement on jailed Briton
Foreign Office declares visit to Tehran ‘worthwhile’ but no announcement made on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

10, Dec, 2017 @11:37 AM

Article image
Iran ends nuclear deal commitments as fallout from Suleimani killing spreads
Iraqi parliament votes to expel US-led troops, while hundreds of thousands march in Iran

Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent, and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Baghdad

05, Jan, 2020 @7:23 PM

Article image
Coronavirus cases pass 100,000 globally as Iran threatens force to restrict travel
WHO calls on countries to make containing spread their highest priority, as Trump signs emergency spending bill

Sam Jones in Madrid and Patrick Wintour

06, Mar, 2020 @5:34 PM

Article image
Iran sentences Tehran professor to jail for 'anti-state propaganda'
Sadegh Zibakalam said unrest was due to internal discontent, not foreign interference

Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent

14, Mar, 2018 @3:15 PM

Article image
Abbas Kiarostami death sparks debate on patient's right to be informed in Iran
Iranian film-maker had undergone four operations but did not know severity of his illness until shortly before he died in Paris

Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent

14, Jul, 2016 @2:33 PM

Article image
Trump plans to enforce sanctions against Iran state TV, says source
It follows a crackdown against protestors, with reports IRIB asked viewers to release information on demonstrators’ identities

Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent

08, Jan, 2018 @7:37 PM