Cousin marriage is common practice within some ethnic groups. Cousin marriage is often considered ideal and encouraged in some communities but in others, can be subject to social stigma.
This practice has high prevalence in the Middle East, Africa and parts of South Asia. In 2010, a report by telegraph (R. Lefort) stated that, “research shows the number of cousin marriages has risen dramatically in the UK over the last three decades, mainly between British Pakistanis, but also between first cousins in the British Bangladeshi community in which nearly a quarter of people marry their first cousins”.
The report stated that “more than 700 children are born with genetic diseases every year as a result of cousin marriages”. This practice showed higher rates among children born in Britain’s Pakistani community, where more than half of marriages are between cousins.
Within the UK, marriage between cousins is legal however, due to high reports of incidence and medical risk in some ethnic groups in the UK where this practice is culturally acceptable; there have been calls to ban the practice (S,Connor. 2008. Independent).
Children are 10 times more likely than the general population to suffer genetic disorders as a result of cousin marriage. Medical risks of “first cousin marriages include higher rates of infant mortality, birth defects, learning difficulties, blindness, hearing problems and metabolic disorders”.
According to Mail Online (2011), British Pakistanis account for 3% of the births in the UK. British Pakistan’s are responsible for 33% of the 15,000 to 20,000 children born every year with genetic defects.
Every individual carry some abnormal genes, but most people do not have a defect because their normal gene domineers the defected one. Subsequently, if a man and wife both have a defected recessive gene, they have a 1 in 4 chance of birthing a child with defects.
Disabilities among children created as a result of the incestuous “cultural” practice is costing the NHS millions of pounds. Children are not given the opportunity to reach their maximum potential due to health and development limitations created as a result of incestuous practices.
Children are more likely to develop:
Cystic fibrosis – a condition in which the lungs and digestive system become clogged with thick, sticky mucus
Sickle cell anaemia – a condition where red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, develop abnormally
Thalassaemia – a group of conditions where the part of the blood known as haemoglobin is abnormal, which means affected red blood cells are unable to function normally
Tay-Sachs disease – a condition that causes progressive damage to the nervous system
There is a course for concern in regards to this practice as, children growing up with recessive defect gene have shorter lifespans. Children will face added difficulties and challenges with daily task and will likely require constant ongoing supervision and assistance on a daily basis.
Former Labour MP (2010) Ann Cryer has campaigned for greater awareness of the risks associated wit cousin marriages. Ann Cryer described this practice as “‘constant and heartbreaking’. Ann stated that ‘No one dared talk about it. If you’re white, it’s seen as racist; if you’re Pakistani, you’re disloyal. If you’re going to marry your first cousin, get tested or screened for genetic compatibility first.’
More needs to be done in raising awareness about this matter as it is often believed that “it is an ‘act of God’ or the ‘will of Allah’ that a child is born disabled” within some communities.
A British Pakistan reported on a Muslim website that ‘A main reason why this corrupt practice is still followed in Britain is because the family wants to keep their property, land, jewellery and money in the family ’.
Within the UK there have been some progress in addressing this cultural practice, work is being carried out by Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. Nevertheless, we can as also raise further awareness within our local groups by educating ourselves about the medical risk associated to cousin marriage.
For further knowledge about genetic diseases caused by cousin marriage please speak to your local doctor.
References and Further Reading