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Iran pushes state-sanctioned dating app to promote marriage

An Iranian woman works on her cellphone outside a shopping mall in Tehran in 2019. Before Iranians can check out the latest offerings on Twitter or YouTube, they must scroll through an array of icons on their smartphones, searching for the best workaround to bypass official censors. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Iran’s Tebyan cultural center, affiliated with the country’s Islamic Development Organization, offers marriage consulting on its website, answering questions such as, “One is introverted and the other is extroverted. What do we do?” and “Why can’t we talk?” This week, Iran took its official push to promote marriage amid rising divorce rates a step further, with the introduction of a state-approved Islamic dating app.

Hamdam — which in Farsi means companion — is a dating app meant to address concerns in Iran over fertility, divorce and marriage. Fertility has been declining in Iran for the past eight years, reaching a low in 2019 and contributing to a shrinking population growth rate. Marriage rates are dropping, and divorce rates are rising.

Tebyan Media Institute Director Kamil Khojasteh said at the app’s unveiling that family values are the “devil’s target” and that Iran’s enemies impose their own ideas onto it. The app, with its pink, purple and heart-filled interface, works against that.

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, speaker of Iranian parliament, inaugurated the platform at a news conference. He said choosing a spouse should come with rationality and awareness, adding that the platform is based on traditional family values and Islamic principles.

There are about 13 million single people age 18 to 35 in Iran, the Associated Press reported. In 2019, the country registered over 170,000 divorces and 520,000 marriages.

The Iranian parliament has tried to stimulate population growth with the passage of a plan in March that includes health insurance for infertile couples, educational opportunities for student mothers and medical services to pregnant women, the Tehran Times reported. The law also stipulates that higher education must raise awareness of the positive sides of childbearing. The government is financially supporting nongovernmental organizations working to lower the age of marriage, facilitate youth marriage and encourage childbearing, the outlet reported.

Rather than an open market, the app screens applicants with psychological tests, uploaded documents and counseling to identify personality traits and characteristics. Then, applicants are offered the best choices from the platform’s point of view, the website stated.

A video of the app’s interface, posted to the Tebyan cultural center’s website, depicts an elaborate matchmaking process complete with questions with sliding scales, text boxes and buttons.

In a Twitter thread, Aref Che, a content producer at Tebyan, said that the first appointment is made only in the presence of families and counselors, and dozens of consultants guide people through the process.

Not simply a matchmaking or dating system, the app supports families throughout their marriage through consulting, the platform’s Twitter page says.

[Comrade, meet Cupid: China’s Communist Party plays matchmaker to millennials]

In Iran, consensual sexual relationships outside of traditional marriage are criminalized.

The app is open to all people, including those who have been married previously, an FAQ read. But it is open only to those desiring permanent marriage in the form of monogamy, it said.

According to the FAQ, the app does not use photos — which are “manipulative” and sometimes do not portray reality. “We have experienced many times in matching that the photo was not a good reason to reject or accept anyone,” the FAQ stated. “What is achieved in a face-to-face meeting is much more complete than a soulless photograph.”

A consultant for Hamdam, according to the app’s website, said that the number of single people have increased, with one reason being that traditional methods of marriage — in which parents were central actors — no longer work, with young people instead tending to be the ones who initiate marriage today.

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