Population control, not growth, good for Iran

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In a recent announcement, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Iranian girls to marry at age 16 — a further rejection of the family planning program that has been in effect since the 1990s. Ahmadinejad, who was first elected to office in 2005 and recently re-elected in 2009, has always been adamantly opposed to the program, which he labels as “an ungodly and Western import.” He sees no reason why marriage ages have risen into the mid-20s and claims that population growth is essential to Iran’s well-being. He argues that the country could feed a population of 150 million.

I’m sorry, President Ahmadinejad, but I think you need to hit the history books. In my opinion, not only is the idea of forcing girls to marry at such a young age ridiculous, but the plan to further increase the country’s population is just plain stupid. The family planning program was implemented at a time when Iran’s population was growing at a rate of 3 percent per year, and the average fertility was about six children per woman.

Iranian legislation was devised to limit the number of children per family in recognition of the fact that the government was unable to provide sufficient food, education, housing, and employment to Iran’s population, which, at that time, numbered around 55 million people. As a result of this family planning program, the growth rate dropped sharply to 1.2 percent, and the fertility rate was lowered to around two children per woman.

I would be curious to know exactly how Ahmadinejad plans on supporting those 150 million people that he claims Iran can feed because, to me, it doesn’t seem like he is supporting Iran’s current population of about 75 million people very well. The current Iranian unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, indicating that there are an estimated 3 million unemployed people of working age in Iran. In addition, surging inflation and poor global economic conditions do not seem conducive to a burst in population growth.

According to Ahmadinejad, however, “I am against saying that two children are enough. Our country has a lot of capacity. It has the capacity for many children to grow in it.... Westerners have got problems. Because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them.”

Mr. President, it’s time you realized that population growth isn’t a Western problem; it’s a global one.