Amid an economic crisis, international sanctions and increasing tensions with the US, Iran's Supreme Leader is urging Iranians to have more babies.
In a meeting with young newlywed couples, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei encouraged government officials to provide more support to families in order to increase the Islamic republic's population, adding that "having more children should turn into a culture," according to his website.
"When the population is large, righteous individuals will naturally be larger in number, capabilities will naturally be more and human resources will obviously be more advanced," said Khamenei. The supreme leader presented China and India as examples of how countries with larger populations achieve more, neglecting to mention that both countries have implemented measures to restrict population growth.
The annual population growth rate in Iran was 3.7% in 1976 with a population of 33 million, but has plummeted to 1.25% since then with a current population of 82 million, according to Radio Farda. Prior to the 1979 revolution, Iranian officials were concerned about the high growth rate, but now Islamic republic leaders are unhappy with the slower rate.
The size of families has also decreased in Iran alongside a smaller birth rate and a higher age of marriage. In the 2016 census, about 10 million Iranians aged 20-39 were single.
The highest fertility rates are found in poorer countries in Africa, including Niger with a rate of 7.2 children per woman and Somalia with a rate of 6.2. Iran's current total fertility rate is 2.5 children per woman.
Khamenei stressed that the people of Iran agree with his opinion, but "the officials who should pursue it in practice and prepare the ground are not doing what is necessary."
In the 1990s, Iran offered free contraceptive services and issued "religious edicts in favor of vasectomies" due to fears of a population explosion, according to Farda.
Under direct orders issued by Khamenei to the conservative government of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, progressive laws on family planning were reversed, access to contraceptives was restricted and voluntary sterilization was outlawed.
Ahmadinejad promised a cash gift of about $1,000 for every child born, but the promise was never kept.
The supreme leader promotes the idea of an Iran with at least 150 million people and insisted in 2011 that "The country would face an aging population in the not-too-distant future if couples refuse to have more children."
Critics at the time claimed that his concerns were unfounded, since 70% of the nation's population were under the age of 35, but the budget for family planning was eliminated in any case.
The Islamic republic is also facing severe environmental issues, including a water shortage which would only be exacerbated by a larger population, according to Radio Farda.
"Stop repeating the shibboleth and saying our country is great. Our resources are limited," said Isa Kalantari, the head of Iran's Department of Environment, last year. "Without guaranteed imports, it will not be wise to increase the country's population," said Kalantari, adding that the nation will be left with no water in less than 50 years.