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Iran urges baby boom

Vahid Salemi / AP

Iranian teachers Akram Shafizadeh, left, and Saba Mirvahabi, hold young children in a kindergarten in Tehran, Iran, July 28. In a major reversal of once far-reaching family planning policies, authorities are now slashing birth-control programs in an attempt to avoid an aging demographic similar to many Western countries that are struggling to keep up with state medical and social security costs.

Vahid Salemi / AP

Iranian nurse Zahra Akbarzadeh, left, gives one-day-old baby girl Setayesh to her mother, Tayyebeh Sadat Bidaki, at the Mehr hospital, in Tehran, July 29.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, families were strongly encouraged to contribute to a baby boom demanded by leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who wanted fast population growth to contribute to a "20 million member army" in support of the ruling theocracy. In 1986, toward the end of the eight-year war with Iraq, census figures show the population's growth rate reached 3.9 percent - among the highest in the world at the time and in line with Persian traditions that favor big families.

But the leadership just as quickly hit the brakes in the 1990s, fearing a galloping population could overwhelm the economy. Iran became a regional leader in family-planning options, including offering free or subsidized condoms and other contraceptives, and issuing religious edicts in favor of vasectomies. One clinic in Tehran promoted its vasectomy services in huge letters atop a water tower.

Banners at public health care centers urged smaller families as a path to a better life. By 2011, the most recent period for which figures are available, Iran's population growth had fallen to one of the lowest in region - 1.3 percent.

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

Vahid Salemi / AP

After swimming, Iranian children nap in their kindergarten in Tehran, July 28.