NEW DELHI: The conservative country of Iran is doing something that is fairly unconservative. It has launched its first official matchmaking website in a bid to encourage millions of singles to marry.

“We have high demand for marriage and 11 million bachelors who are increasing every day,” Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Mahmoud Golzari said in a ceremony launching the site. “This is a significant issue for the ruling system,” he added.

The website is not a dating site, Golzari and other officials insist. “The matchmaking website you are seeing today is not a website for introducing boys and girls to each other…Our Islamic and Iranian culture does not approve of long-term relationships out of wedlock.” Golzari said, adding that he hopes it serves as a model for other muslim countries.

The new website has mediators -- clerics, doctors, teachers and other professionals -- who will match single applicants with one another based on information about age, education, wealth and family background. The website has 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 novel initiative is part of Iran’s efforts to boost its population, which the country fears is aging and could overwhelm its social programmes. Iran has stopped providing free contraception and funding vasectomies, with state sanctioned sermons aimed at encouraging younger people to marry and start families.

Toward this end, 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.’” The edict represented a reversal of a fatwa that was issued in the 1980s intended to slow the number of births in Iran. At that time, there was concern that a large population was putting undue strain on Iran’s economy.

Iran’s President between 2005 and 2013, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, put the reverse policy aimed at encouraging population growth into effect. 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.”

Girls were encouraged to marry earlier, at age 16, and financial rewards were offered for each child born.

Golzari alluded to this aim of population growth when he said, “We face a family crisis in Iran… here 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.”

However, while on one hand the need for a bigger, younger population prompts Iran to encourage online dating, on the other it also drives violence against women. Amnesty International in a report titled “You Shall Procreate: Attacks On Women’s Sexual And Reproductive Rights In Iran,” published March this year, highlights this problem through the deliberation on two bills: The Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline (Bill 446) and the Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill (Bill 315). Amnesty International concludes that the two bills, intended to drive population growth, will 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 International says, “pose a major threat to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls.”