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    News & Views

Marriage turning into a crisis for young Iranians

By Kianouche Dorranie

TEHRAN, Dec 4 (AFP) - Marriage in Iran, which has one of the world's youngest populations, is turning into one of the country's biggest headcahes, with young people facing both traditional taboos and tough economic choices.

There are about 10 million Iranians of marriageable age, who have found themselves frustrated in their search for happiness.

Now state television has intervened in the search for a way out of Iran's "marriage crisis."

It has been broadcasting a series of nightly talk shows with young people describing the problems they face and expressing their views on cultural taboos. Almost all the young men and women have called for radical changes to break free of the old shackles.

While most families are still bound by traditional values, the younger generation consider arranged marriage as outdated and want to get to know each other before committing themselves to marriage.

Islamic laws strictly observed since the 1979 revolution have done nothing to make this easier, as they virtually forbid all encounters between young men and women in public. Materialistic concerns are also an obstacle, especially among the better off families.

Middle-class families often demand that prospective husbands should have a good job with "prospects" before agreeing to let them marry their daughters.

A standard practice is to demand a considerable number of gold coins from the groom as a security in case of divorce.

Then there are the wedding expenses and presents for the bride - a must for any self-respecting bridegroom - that can exceed 20 or 30 million rials (6,000 to 10,000 dollars at the official exchange rate.)

The media and clerics often criticize such extravagant customs, asking that families be less "demanding".

This is basically the message the television programmes seek to relay to the public.

"If a couple know each other and go out together before getting married, they could resolve a whole lot of things and do without senseless expenses," said a young girl student on television.

But that may be easier said than done. An average worker in Iran needs to work two shifts to be able to afford just the rent on a small apartment -- if he has a job at all. Good jobs are not easy to come by nowadays in Iran, where there are around two million unemployed.

The number is expected to go on rising as some 10 million young people enter the job market in the next few years.

Young people's votes were decisive in President Mohammad Khatami's landslide electoral victory in May 1997, and most still expect the government to help provide them with a brighter future.

But some have already succumbed to despair and are turning more and more to drugs. There is a thriving market for hashish and opium, in a country which lies on the direct smuggling route from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But although Khatami may not have fulfilled the economic needs of the young, he has at least managed to ease draconian regulations placed around their life.

Middle-class youth mainly in big cities have found a way to forget their economic woes by imitating their Western counterparts in dress and social habits.

Slipping away from the watchful eyes of "moral" cops, unmarried couples meet and hold hands in parks, movie theaters, trendy coffee shops and pizzarias with an ease unprecedented since the revolution.

In a western-style cafe, over a glass of locally produced cola or French coffee and without their parents or the "moral" police intruding, they may find it easier to discuss their future life.

Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form