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Iran Tries to Stop Declining Birth Rate


The human rights group Amnesty International says proposed new laws in Iran would severely limit women’s freedom. It says the country’s leaders want to limit a woman’s ability to get medicine to stop a pregnancy. It says the leaders also want to make getting a job harder for young, childless women.

Iran is taking these actions to try to keep the country’s birth rate from dropping further. Iran’s leaders believe the country’s declining population is a major threat to its future.

The rights group says the leaders’ actions show that the government wants young Iranian women to become, in its words, “baby-making machines.” Raha Bahreini is the group’s expert on Iran.

"The Iranian authorities are trying to, first of all, ban voluntary female sterilization, which is, interestingly, the second-most common method of birth control in Iran after pills. They are also restricting access to information about sexual reproductive health and, specifically, methods of contraception.”

Ms. Bahreini says the proposed laws could threaten the lives of some Iranian women.

“They will have no option but to continue with their unwanted pregnancies when it’s not their choice to do (so), or terminate their pregnancies through illegal and unsafe abortions.”

Shereen Hussein is a demographic researcher at King’s College in London. Demographers study populations, including births, aging and migration. Ms. Hussein says Iran’s birthrate has dropped because of poor economic conditions during the war with Iraq in the 1980s and because of government policies that urged people to have fewer children.

“So really the fertility decline hasn’t started until the late 1980s in Iran. But then it declined very sharply.”

Today, Iran’s birth rate is around 1.8. That number is below what demographers call the “replacement level.”

Ms. Hussein says because of the declining birthrate, the number of people in the country is lower than it once was. She blames the situation on the falling number of marriages and the increasing number of divorces.

“It’s not only contraceptive(s) and family planning, it’s also the dynamics of marriage, the divorce rate, the re-marriage, the age of marriage. And that, combined with economic hardship, made it very difficult for many people to start families and have children.”

Amnesty International says Iran also wants to limit divorces and strengthen already-existing discrimination against women in employment. It says men -- and women who already have children -- would be given priority for jobs. Researcher Raha Bahreini says that policy would make it difficult for young women without children to get a job.

“And that means women will be further excluded from the labor market in Iran. Also, it tries to make divorce more difficult to obtain. Women already face a lot of obstacles in getting divorced and they do not have an equal divorce right to men.”

Demographer Shereen Hussein says she understands why Iran’s leaders want to stop the population from declining. But she says the policies they are supporting would cause economic pain in the short term because larger families need more health care and schools.

“Having, you know, more children could be a solution in the long term. But that is again attached to a higher economic value -- especially in the, in the short term, when you have increased demand for health services and education services.”

Ms. Hussein says another problem for Iran and neighboring countries is their population is growing older. As the number of older people increases, governments are pressured to spend more money to provide more services.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Henry Ridgwell reported this story from London. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

authorities – n. people who have power to make decisions and enforce rules and laws

sterilize – v. to make someone unable to produce children

access – n. permission or the right to enter, get near or make use of something or to have contact with someone

reproductive – adj. relating to or involved in the production of babies, young animals or new plants

contraception – n. things that are done to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant

option – n. something that can be chosen; a choice or possibility

terminate – v. to cause to end

abortion – n. a medical procedure used to end a pregnancy

fertility – n. the state or condition of being fertile; the ability to produce young

replacement level – n. the minimum number of children who must be born in order for a population to replace itself

dynamic – n. the way that two or more people behave with each other because of a particular situation

priority – n. the condition of being more important than something or someone else and therefore coming or being dealt with first

exclude – v. to prevent someone from doing something or being a part of a group

obstacle – n. something that makes it difficult to do something

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