Sharp decline in the Iranian population has posed a new challenge for the Islamic Republic: aging population and a severe shortage of labour. The declining population has created a severe shortage of labour and working population who is supposed to take care of the elderly.
In the 1980s, Iran had six children per woman, which has now come down to 1.7 children per woman. Before Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was thrown out in the Iranian Revolution in 1979, he had promoted a US-backed population control policy, but it had little impact on the reproductive behaviour of people.
Pahlavi’s programmes were such a failure that by the time his reign ended in 1979, Iran had six children per woman. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led a faction of the Revolution and established new Republic, had a very different opinion about population growth.
He wished for massive growth in the population of Shias to balance the power structure in the Middle East. The new regime believed that having more Shias will give them an upper hand in the region.
The new government started promoting the birth of more children. Incentives were provided to women for producing more children.
Even before the new regime could get shape, war with neighbouring Iraq started. Although it furthered the belief that Iran needs more Shias, the economy was in bad shape because of the war. It became difficult for Iran to sustain the incentives.
The more war elongated, the more difficult it became. President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who assumed office in 1989, changed course and started promoting the two-child norm. The next president, Mohammad Khatami, continued the policy of promoting two children per family.
It helped President Hashemi that the Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that contraceptive measures were fully compatible with Islamic beliefs. After the Iranian Revolution, the government in Iran started promoting that the contraceptive measures were un-Islamic.
The policy was dramatically overturned when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed office in 2005. For the next eight years, till 2013, Iran continued the policy of incentivising more children.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been criticising the population control measures, saying it’ll put Iran in big trouble. Taking a cue, the government has started incentivising more children.
Iran, which is perennially in conflict with Saudi Arabia for dominance in the region, believes that a fewer number of Shias in the Islamic Republic means a weaker Iran. Ali Khamenei, who is the Supreme Leader of Iran, has appealed to the people to produce more children.