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Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Iran leader backs larger families
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iranians families at the Jamkaran mosque, Qom, 8 Sept 06
In the 1980s, the average Iranian woman had six children
Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he disagrees with the idea that two children are enough, local newspapers and news agencies report.

This is despite the fact his country has one of the most successful family planning programmes in the Middle East.

The president said he was ready to decrease the working hours of married women or women with children to make it easier for them to have more children.

Ministry of Health officials say they are studying the president's statement.

However, it is likely to prove controversial.

Family planning

The UN Family Planning Association describes Iran's population control programme as a textbook example of how fertility rates can be reduced if the environment is right.

With the help of high literacy rates, rural health clinics, counselling before marriage and free family planning services, Iran has achieved what some call a population control revolution.

In the 1980s, the average Iranian woman had six children, now two is normal.

But President Ahmadinejad is questioning that achievement. He says he is against the idea that two children is enough.

His view is that Western countries are just scared about Iran's population growing and overtaking theirs.

Hiring women

The president says he is not against women working, but he thinks they can work part-time but be paid full-time to allow them to spend more time with their children.

Although this idea might appeal to some women, the likelihood is that it will damage women's chances of being employed, because it will make it more complicated and expensive to hire a woman.

Already one reformist newspaper has criticised the president, saying that everywhere else in the world heads of state are trying to reduce population growth, but in Iran it is the reverse.

Meanwhile, Sayeed Laylaz, a critic of the president, said Mr Ahmadinejad's latest stance was just a way of grabbing the headlines and distracting attention from his government's economic failures.

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