In Iran, where religious officials encourage early marriage, and long-term dating relationships frustrate clerics and officials, matchmaking is not personal – it's a matter of state.
In a bid to encourage millions of Iranian singles to marry and increase a low population growth rate, Iran on Monday launched its first official matchmaking website.
"We face a family crisis in Iran," Mahmoud Golzari, a deputy minister of youth affairs and sports, told reporters in a ceremony launching hamsan.tebyan.net in Tehran. "There are many people who are single, and when that happens it means no families and no children," he said.
“This is not a dating website,” Mr. Golzari emphasized. "Intermediaries and people who are trusted by people and families" are going to do the matchmaking, reported the Iranian Student News agency, ISNA. Applicants will submit their detailed personal information to the site and then matchmakers will find the best fit for them, he explained.
Eleven million of Iran's 80 million citizens are bachelors under 30, and the matchmaking website is a part of a larger official effort in Iran to reduce this number and increase birthrates.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been a cheerleader for population growth for several years. He wants the population to grow to at least 150 million – and in a in a traditional country like Iran, that means increasing the marriage rate first.
In May 2014, Ayatollah Khamenei issued an edict ordering the government to decrease the marriage age, increase the fertility rate, and evict the obstacles to marriage.
Iran has pursued an effective birth control program for over two decades. In the late 1980s, Ayatollah Khomeini issued fatwas making birth control widely available in the country. Since then, Iran has experienced a large drop in fertility, so now the government is reversing course.
The marriage rate has declined in Iran for years. Last year, Iran announced that this rate has fallen by six percent to 712,000 marriages.
Some point to financial causes for matrimony's declines. An economic downturn has made it difficult for young couples to afford the cost of starting households.
Besides, some youths have less appetite for marriage than before. They do not believe in tying the knot, and find it more convenient to stay in long-term dating relationships. This trend, known in Iran as "white marriage," has sparked criticism among clerics and officials.
The new matchmaking website, its creators hope, will reverse these trends. The site is free to use and will use a broad network of intermediaries, including clerics and trustworthy professionals, to pair people off.
Officials told AFP that during its one-year trial, 130 intermediaries introduced 3,000 men and women, of whom 200 got married.
Golzari believes reversing the anti-marriage trend is “necessary” for Iran's future, and he has lofty goals for the website, which he expects to "increase the number of marriages by 100,000 in a year."