Iran is worried about its birth rates. In the period 1980-1985, the country had a total fertility rate of about 6 and a half children per woman. By 2005-2010, this had dropped to 1.77 children per woman. An extremely sharp drop within one generation. This drop in the demographic outlook of the country has prompted the Iranian authorities to think about ways to increase its future population. (After all, if you’re enriching uranium to use in nuclear power plants you need lots of future consumers to buy that nuclear power, right? Right??) In July 2012, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei said:

“The policy of population control and family planning should definitely be revised and the authorities should build the culture in order to abandon the current status of one child, two children [per family]…The figure of 150 or 200 million was once stated by Imam Khomeini. That is correct. Those are the types of figures we must achieve.” 

So, according to the Lancet, the Iranian authorities have introduced two bills that Amnesty International warns “the combined effect will be to reverse Iran’s progressive family planning laws of the past 20 years” (the past 20 years of course being the time in which the fertility rate declined so dramatically). Amnesty’s report may be read here. One Bill, to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline, prohibits voluntary sterilisation and introduces punishments of health professionals who do such procedures, limits the access to emergency contraceptives and reduces state funding for family planning programmes as well as banning the provision of information about contraceptive methods.

The second Bill, the Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill aims to encourage “an Islamic-Iranian lifestyle” rooted in “traditional” family values. It does this by allowing employers to discriminate “against female job applicants, particularly if they are single or without children; makes divorce more difficult for men and women; and discourages police and judicial intervention in family disputes, including those involving violence against women.” The bill makes it mandatory for all employers, both public and private, to give priority to, in sequence, married men with children, married men without children and women with children. Further, the Bill bans the employment of single men or women as public and private school teachers and members of the academic boards of universities and higher education institutes except when “there is no qualified married applicant available.” Further, judges and lawyers are financially incentivised to resolve divorce disputes without the couple divorcing. Finally, you can only practice family law if you are married yourself. The Bill also includes greater maternity leave entitlements and greater flexibility and job security for mothers in the workforce. In short, the Bill is an interesting mix of measures to encourage women to have children and to promote family life.

While some of these measures may be admirable, there is no doubt that Amnesty International is not happy about its preferential treatment to families and women in “traditional gender roles” nor to the limiting of sterilisation and access to contraceptive information. What do you think? Are there some beneficial measures here? Will this make any difference to Iran’s fertility rate?

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...