Iranian cleric warns of security threat from collapsing birthrate

Iranian cleric warns of security threat from collapsing birthrate
Child decided to upstage Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in recent speech. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau May 17, 2024

Imam of Yasuj in the south of Iran, Nasir Hosseini, has issued a stark warning about the security threats posed by Iran's ageing population, urging for a strong national and religious response, Asriran reported on May 17.

In his Friday sermon speech, Ayatollah Hosseini said that the demographic shift could weaken national strength, lead to an identity crisis, and threaten the future of the Iranian nation in what is seen as a stark comment from the provinces for the first time.

Iran is facing a demographic dilemma with an increasing number of elderly citizens and declining birth rates. The country’s birth rate has dropped significantly due to factors such as lifestyle changes, Western cultural influences, financial challenges, and the rising age of marriage. The situation has become so acute that in 2024, the average age for first-time mothers in Tehran was 27.3 years, with urban areas averaging 28.1 years and rural areas 24.4 years. Tehran had the highest average paternal age at first childbirth at 34.5 years, while Sistan and Baluchestan had the lowest at 27.1 years.

Ayatollah Hosseini highlighted that the effects of population decline are more detrimental than war, impacting national identity, religion, and economy.

He also decried the practice of abortion happening with increasing numbers as couples drop out of parenthood, labelling it a “human tragedy,” with over 300,000 abortions reported annually in Iran in the past year.

He stressed that those who perform and facilitate abortions are executing the enemy's schemes, by which he means the US and Western countries.

In his sermon, Hosseini also celebrated the upcoming birthday of local saint Imam Reza and acknowledged the blessings associated with his presence in Iran. The Islamic Republic is increasingly leaning on religious doctrines and edicts to push through changes to society; however, despite this the population is increasingly rejecting calls to have more children.  

Also, the cleric commemorated the anniversary of the liberation of Khorramshahr, attributing this military victory to divine intervention and a prelude to further successes during the eight-year war with Iraq, which saw more than 500,000 Iranians killed in action.

This demographic shift poses a significant challenge to Iran's Vision 2025, which aims to enhance the country’s economic and social stability.

The country's fertility rate has dropped to 2.1, whereas in Tehran, it was 1.6 births per woman in 2024, below the replacement level needed to maintain population stability. This decline is expected to continue, with projections indicating that Iran may have one of the lowest fertility rates in the Middle East if current trends persist.

The Iranian government has implemented various policies to encourage higher birth rates, such as financial incentives for families and efforts to reduce the availability of contraceptives. However, these measures have had limited success in reversing the declining trend, as economic difficulties, emigration, changing cultural norms, and delayed marriages continue to influence family planning decisions among younger Iranians.

Iran's birthrate reached a peak of 6.4 children per couple after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which was among the world’s highest at the time. But by 1990 experts were estimating that Iran could be home to 140mn people if the rate was left unchecked, so to combat the rise the system endorsed birth control and the rate dropped rapidly to 1.6 in 2012, with the unofficial figure believed to be less than that in 2016.