An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander on Saturday told the female members of the Basij paramilitary force that families of the Guards and Basij should have "at least five children".
Commander Ali Fadavi's guidance reflects the deep concerns of Iran's religious and hardline establishment about the perceived decline in the country's young population and hence "Shiite soldiers" to fight for causes held dear for the Islamic Republic.
Addressing a gathering of female members of Basij, the paramilitary arm of the IRGC, Brigadier General Ali Fadavi said: "The country's population growth rate has become negative. This can have undesirable consequences. The women's Basij should be pioneers in this matter. We should have at least five children in the families of the IRGC and Basij members."
The Head of the Political, Ideological Organization of the Iranian army had claimed in August that "through cultural onslaught the enemies of Shiism are secretly trying to prevent the number of number of Shiites from rising" and said Iran needs "jihad makers, guards and defenders to maintain its existence, identity and investments."
The Iranian religious establishment is against population control plans for the same reason. In 2012, Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, one of Iran's prominent religious leaders, criticized family planning and accused the Saudis and Wahabis of hatching a plot to replace the Shiite majority in all Iranian cities with Sunnis.
According to Iran's Health Minister Saeed Namaki's letter to Khamenei on November 9, the current total fertility rate (TFR) is 1.84 and "confirms the concerns of your learned highness." In his letter Namaki claimed that in 2016 the figure announced by the authorities had been manipulated and artificially increased to 2.1 to dispel the concerns about the drop in the rate of growth of the country's population.
Figures for the population growth rate offered by various Iranian authorities are not consistent and vary considerably. According to Iran's Statistical Center currently the population growth rate and the aging population growth rate stand at 1.24 and 3.62 respectively. Iran's population is 83 million now and has more than doubled in the 40 years since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
According to the same organization 24.6 percent of the population is under the age of 15 and 22 percent are between 15 and 29 years old. Only 6.4 percent of the population is above 65. However, the growth of the young population is negative at a rate of 3.24 while the aging population (over 60 years old) is growing at a rate of 3.62.
Hardliners accuse Dr. Mohammad-Jalal Abasi-Shavazi, a demography professor of Tehran University, and Dr Meymanat Hosseini Chavoshi, a demography researcher of the National University of Australia of manipulating the statistics on the total fertility rate (TFR) to make the population growth rate higher to deceive the Iranian authorities and prevent them from taking measures to deal with the low growth.
According to the IRGC affiliated Javan Online both academics who "have connections with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)" are currently under trial on security charges and are not allowed to leave the country.
Khamenei has repeatedly said Iran's population should be at least 150 million to avoid having an aging population.
Some Iranian hardliners allege that "the enemy" is acting through family planning activists and demography experts to "infiltrate" state bodies and with manipulated statistics create the illusion that the population growth rate is not at a worrying level at all. "Enemy" is a code name for the US, other western countries, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
Iran's population grew very fast in the 1980s when the birth rate came close to 4 percent. Free contraceptive services were offered at governmental healthcare centers. Some Iranian clerics even issued religious edicts in favor of vasectomies. In 2012, under Khamenei's direct guidelines, the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad outlawed voluntary sterilization and restricted access to contraceptives. Implementation of this policy has continued since then.
Iranian authorities encourage families to have more children at a time when the country's economy is facing dire problems. According to the latest report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Iran's economy is expected to shrink by 9.5 percent in 2019 due to U.S. sanctions. Inflation has now gone up to 40 percent and the official unemployment rate is more than 15 percent. Experts believe the real unemployment rate is much higher, since Iran counts one hour of work per week as employment.