The Iranian government is launching a matchmaking site to encourage the increasing number of single people to tie the knot.The Find Your Equal website will ask people to enter a number of details such as physical attributes, faith, family background and the woman’s style of dress in an attempt to find eligible matches.
These matches will be overseen by religious clerics and upstanding members of the community – such as doctors and teachers – who will arrange the next steps, psychometric testing and a family meeting.
The unusual move has been triggered by deep unease in the Islamic republic that the family unit is eroding and the population is falling.
And Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants the 80 million population of Iran, where sex outside marriage is banned, to nearly double to 150 million by 2050.
‘We face a family crisis in Iran,’ said Mahmoud Golzari, a deputy minister for sport and youth, at the unveiling of 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, defending the need for the website.
This should have happened a long time ago,’ he added.
Officials said ‘Find Your Equal’, as it’s called, is not a dating site but hopes to reverse a surge in numbers, currently 11 million, of young single adults.
Having trialled the system for a year in which officials said 130 intermediaries introduced 3,000 men and women – with 100 couples getting married – it will now launch fully.
The aim for the free service is to set up 100,000 marriages over the next 12 months.
The government has since reversed past policies to control population growth, with legislation to cancel subsidies for condoms and birth control pills and eliminate free vasectomies.
The free matchmaking website is another step: people register online and the matchmaker tries to come up with a suitable partner from its database.
Users must state their age, height, weight and build, eye colour, education level and languages spoken, whether they smoke and list their hobbies and interests.
But there are a number of deep-seeded issues that introducing people may not be able to address.
Millions of poor families live on a few hundred dollars a month and the middle class has been hit by sanctions which creates a deep socio-economic divide.
Economic factors, such as high youth unemployment, are blamed for rising marriage ages – the national average is 28.1 for men and 23.4 for women. In Tehran it is higher, at 30.6 and 26.7 respectively.
Many young Iranians also cite the country’s strict social customs and pressure to get married as a heavy burden, but religious families blame a Western cultural invasion for eroding traditional values.
Women, who must be veiled in Iran, have to state their preferred mode of Islamic dress, be it a traditional loose head-to-toe black chador or a more modern tight-fitting coat.
Both sexes are also asked their religion – Iran is 90 percent Shiite Muslim – and their level of faith, and whether they would like to live abroad.
Although online dating sites are banned in Iran, around 350 operate illegally. Millions of young adults also use Facebook and social media to hook up despite such sites being prohibited.
Zohre Hosseini, project manager for the matchmaking site, acknowledged that young people faced difficulties.
‘We don’t claim that we are solving all the problems,’ she said.
‘But the problem we are tackling here is that of finding a partner.’
Hitting the planned number of marriages could be a tall order, said Fatemeh, a single 24-year-old middle class engineer from Tehran who said she would be perturbed at submitting personal information online.
‘I will not use this site as I do not trust cyberspace,’ she said. ‘It’s a good initiative but whether it will have an impact is another matter.