TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged young girls to marry at age of 16 in his latest rejection of the country's once effective family planning program, local newspapers reported on Sunday.
Following record birth rates in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran implemented an internationally praised family planning program in the 1990s that dramatically reduced the growth rate. Ahmadinejad has criticized the program as an ungodly and a Western import.
"We should take the age of marriage for boys to 20 and for girls to about 16 and 17," he said, according to the state-owned Jam-e Jam daily. "The marriage age for boys has reached 26 and for girls to 24, and there is no reason for this."
Since coming to power in 2005, the Iranian president has sought to increase of the country's population, which is already at 75 million, with a third between the ages of 15 and 30.
In July, he inaugurated a new policy to encourage population growth with financial incentives for every new child born, having previously said the country could feed a population of 150 million.
Critics said the policy will only exacerbate unemployment, currently set 9 percent officially. There are an estimated 3 million unemployed people of working age in the country.