Iran Launches Official Matchmaking Site to Promote Marriage

6-15-15 Iran matchmaking site
Iran premieres a state-sanctioned matchmaking site in hopes of encouraging more young Iranians to marry. An Iranian bride and groom are reflected in a mirror as they attend a mass wedding ceremony in central Tehran in 2007. Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters

Updated | Iran launched its first official matchmaking website Monday, its latest move in a quest to encourage marriages and births, the Associated Press reports. "Find Your Equal," according to New Delhi-based NDTV, targets Iran's roughly 11 million single young adults (out of a total population of about 77 million).

"We face a family crisis in Iran," Mahmoud Golzari, deputy minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, said during a ceremony for the site's launch in Tehran Monday. "There are many people who are single, and when that happens it means no families and no children....This should have happened a long time ago."

But "the matchmaking website you are seeing today is not a website for introducing boys and girls to each other," Golzari added, insisting the site is not intended for dating. "Our Islamic and Iranian culture does not approve of long-term relationships out of wedlock."

The new website has mediators—clerics, doctors, teachers and other professionals—match single applicants with one another based on information about age, education, wealth and family background. It launched after a year of trials with the goal of producing 100,000 marriages in the next year.

"Though our difficulties are different from [those] in Western countries," Golzari said, "we are using modern technology to solve a problem."

The matchmaking website comes as part of a larger effort to increase marriage and birthrates in Iran and thus bolster the population. In May 2014, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an edict calling for population growth "to 'strengthen national identity' and counter 'undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles,'" according to The New York Times.

Khamenei's edict represented the reversal in recent years of fatwas he had issued in the 1980s intended to slow the number of births in Iran. At the time, he was concerned that a large population was putting strain on the economy. Contraception became available for free at government clinics and state television and health workers educated citizens about birth control and family planning.

But later, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president between 2005 and 2013, worked toward the opposite outcome. He called the contraceptive program "a prescription for extinction" and said:

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. It even has the capacity for 120 million people. 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.

The former president encouraged girls to marry at a younger age, like 16 or 17, and offered financial rewards for each child born. In August last year, Iran passed legislation to prohibit surgical operations that permanently prevent pregnancy.

The cost of weddings and raising children in a time of economic downturn deters many young Iranians from tying the knot and starting a family. The government is considering other financial incentives to increase marriage and birth rates, such as low-interest loans for new couples, the AP reports.

But the efforts to encourage marriage and children have profound and negative consequences on women. Amnesty International warned in March that if two bills being considered in Iran became law, women "could face significant restrictions on their use of contraceptives and be further excluded from the labor market."

According to its report, "You Shall Procreate: Attacks on Women's Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Iran," the Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline (Bill 446) and the Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill (Bill 315) would block information about and access to contraceptives, end state funding of the family-planning program and have public and private entities prioritize employment based on men and women's marital and parental status. The bills, Amnesty wrote, "pose a major threat to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls."

Amnesty International USA is calling for the repeal of Bill 446, which its Iran country specialist Elise Auerbach says has passed but has yet to be finalized as a law, and for the amendment of parts of the other proposed bill to better protect women's rights.