Marriage between first cousins doubles risk of birth defects, say researchers

cousin marriages

The Muslim Times’ Chief Editor’s comment: Please see my views in the comment section below to find solutions to the problems posed by cousin marriages.

Source: The Guardian

Marriage between first cousins doubles the risk of children being born with birth defects, according to a study seeking answers to the higher than expected rates of deaths and congenital abnormalities in the babies of the Pakistani community.

Researchers have concluded that the cultural practice of marriage between first cousins is a bigger factor than any other – outweighing the effects of deprivation in parts of Bradford, where the study was carried out. Marriage to a blood relative accounted for nearly a third (31%) of all birth defects in babies of Pakistani origin.

The risk of having a baby with birth defects – usually heart or nervous system problems which can sometimes be fatal – is still small, but it rises from 3% in the general Pakistani population to 6% among those married to blood relatives. The researchers also found a doubling of the risk in the babies of white British women who were over the age of 34. That increased risk, rising from 2% to 4%, is already known.

Every year there are about 90 more baby deaths than would be expected in the Pakistani community in England and Wales because of birth defects. But the issue is highly sensitive because marriage within families is an established cultural tradition.

Previous studies have caused controversy but the lead author of the paper, Dr Eamonn Sheridan from Leeds University, said there has been strong community involvement in the Born in Bradford study, which has been following the health of 13,500 babies delivered in the Bradford Royal Infirmary between 2007 and 2011.

Read further

Additional reading

First Cousin Marriages in Pakistani families Leading To Disabilities among Children

Why Ban Cousin Marriages?

Cousin Marriage – Why? – Why Not?

14 replies

  1. If we eat too much of Halal food we become obese, which in extreme situations can be even lethal. In similar fashion, we need to realize that frequent cousin marriages certainly lead to problems. Some times big and drastic issues.

    Cousin marriages can offer several social advantages, but, one needs to be able to see any good science with an open mind. For now in my opinion the punch line is that the prevalence of congenital disease in non-cousin marriages is 3% and it is twice as much in cousin marriages.


    Again, the risk of congenital problems is 3% in general marriages and doubles in cousin marriages and perhaps increases further if there are repeated cousin marriages in the family.

    What I am suggesting here is not genetic engineering but embryo screening to pick up healthy embryos to be implanted and go through the pregnancy.

    If anyone must do cousin marriage and have resources and money, they should consider test tube baby after genetic testing, this will almost completely take out any risk from cousin marriage plus more. The way to go if you have money.

    To begin to know about genetic issues begin to read Lee Silver.

    Lee M. Silver (born 1952) is an American biologist. He is a professor at Princeton University in the Department of molecular biology of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He also has joint appointments in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Office of Population Research, and the Princeton Environmental Institute, all at Princeton University.

    Silver is the author of the book Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family (1998). In the book he takes a positive view on human cloning, designer babies and similar prospects. In this book he coined the term reprogenetics to describe the prospective fusion of reproductive technologies and genetics, which will allow positive eugenic actions on an individual level.

    His most recent book, Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, was released in June 2006.

    Silver is the co-founder of GenePeeks, a genetic research company which owns a simulation for screening genetic disorders.

    Suggested Reading
    PGD, Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis for Genetic Disorders Preventing genetic diseases by testing IVF embryos

    New Tech Allows Parents Genetic ‘Preview’ Before Conception

    I will keep updating this comment of mine over time and add links to useful information in here.

  2. Cousin marriage is common in all Muslim countries. It is in accordance with the teaching of the Holy Quran and our Prophet had married his daughter with his uncle son. There were no defects in the children. Cousin marriage is thought to generate more stable relationship. Children are born with defects whether it is cousin marriage or not. Among migrant Muslim communities the defects are due to many factors. The pressure of moving to a different cultural environment and moving from their families, problems of racism and employment are responsible for the defects during pregnancies. The defects are nothing to do with cousin marriages. The hidden agenda is that British society does not want Muslims to bring their spouses from Muslim countries. A man/woman has the right to marry anybody from anywhere. It is a question of human right and the right given to Muslims by the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Holy Prophet.

    I would like to see each and every Pakistani parent should marry their sons and daughters in Pakistan so that their offspring’s could speak, read and write Urdu language and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. The racist British education system has produced only notoriously monolingual Pakistani Brits. Pakistani parents would like their children to be well versed in Standard English, Arabic and Urdu languages and to be part of the British society as well as keeping in touch with their cultural roots.

    Marrying cousin is and has always been legal in the UK. It is not only migrant communities who have children with their cousins, rural communities have their fair share…truly… and lets not even look at the inbreeding within royalty and the aristocracy. How else do you think the aristocracy held onto 90% of the land for so long? Muslim community is an easy target to wag the finger at. There is no hard evidence that married to cousin causes birth defects. Before picking on Pakistanis just remember that Queen and Prince Phillip are third cousins. Glass houses…stone…. I do not think fingers should be pointed at Pakistani culture; it is another witch hunt against Muslim community. Native English people marry their cousins as well and have done for centuries. British society is ignorant regarding UK law. Henry V111 changed the law so he could marry his cousin. And it still remains legal to marry your cousin in UK today. In Britain, every Pakistani is not a Muslim and neither do they all get married to their cousins. I am sick of British media and politicians like Baroness Ruth Deech and Keighley MP Ann Cryer bashing Muslim communities every day. The hatred towards Muslim communities has grown to a level that defies all logic and even affront to British values. The problem is that Britain has never made communities feel part of British identity and people lives “parallel lives”. Faith schools are part and parcel of British education system but Muslim schools are being discouraged and regarded as “Osama bib Laden Academies.

    • You were alive to see that there were no abnormalities? Why go to that “racist” place keep staying in that paradise place, and stay out of the West! Problem.solved!!!

  3. Iftikhara – With respedct, you obviously want your cake and to eat it. You want Pakistani parents to marry their children in Pakistan, that’s fine, but why should you expect them to end up in the UK? There are already far too many foreigners in this country, and more are waiting to come. So many parts of cities look like Pakistan and even have Muslim mayors, and natives don’t feel very comfortable. It seems like a take-over, the beginnings of another Ottoman-like empire. What makes you think that is acceptable? And you have so many complaints about your privileged life here, it makes me wonder why you choose to remain. Just try to see and understand the situation from the other side.
    Pakistan may be waiting for you to make a contribution to that country. By the way, I have no racial prejudices, I have family, friends and neighbours from all parts of the world, but I am a realist, and am aware that too many people from other tribes, especially if they don’t want to assimilate, and the majority don’t, will cause problems, even in Pakistan. If you want to live like a Pakistani, that’s the place to go.

    • It is easy to say” Go back to where you came from”, but do not forget that British Muslims are actually born and educated here. They are in the unenviable position of trying to combine two different worlds. That is no easy. We do not want to change you lot but we would like to see our children getting balanced Islamic education along with National Curriculum. We would like our children to learn and be well versed in standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time we would like our children to learn and be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. Bilingualism is an asset but British schooling regards it as a problem.

      We live in a shrunken world and millions of people are on the move; one of our biggest challenges is how we learn to live in proximity to difference – different skin colours, different beliefs and different way of life. According to a study by COMPASS, Muslims born and educated were given the impression of outsiders. The perception among Muslims is that they are unwelcome in Britain is undermining efforts to help them integrate into wider society. Most of them say that they have experienced race discrimination and religious prejudice. Muslims and Islam is promoted a fundamentalist and separatist by the western elite, which have negative impact on community and social cohesion. The number of racist incidents occurring in London Borough of Redbridge’s schools have reached their highest levels since record begin.

      A City or a locality, where Muslims are in majority is a ghetto. There is a tendency for people of similar backgrounds to live together in neighbourhoods. The term”ghettoisation” is inappropriate. The original ghettos in Europe during the middle ages were set up by law to confine the Jewish population to one area of a city. According to a research by an Australian academic that Muslim communities in Britain are being increasingly ghettoized in a trend that set back hopes of assimilation by years. Britain has now eight cities in the top 100 most ghettoized cities. The people from the Pakistani community in Bradford and Oldham and Leicester had trebled during the decade. A report by an academic Dr Alan Carling, that Bradford risks becoming a front line in the global clash between the West and Islam. But Islam and Muslims do not clash with the concepts of pluralism, secularism and globalisation. The native flight from Bradford’s inner-city wards showed clear evidence of an increase in segregation in the city since 1991. Native parents are avoiding sending their children in state schools where Muslims and other minorities are in majority. The dominance of Pakistani Muslims in the city has meant that Bradford has become bi-cultural.

      Immigrants are the creators of Britain new wealth, otherwise, inner cities deprived areas could not get new lease of life. The native Brits regard such areas as ghettoes. Integration is not religious and cultural, it is economic and Muslims are well integrated into British society and at the same time they are proud of their Islamic, linguistic and cultural identities, inspite of discrimination they have been facing in all walks of life. According to UN, 80% of British Muslims feel discriminated. They are less burden on social services. Immigrants made up 8.7% of the population, but accounted for 10.2% of all collected income tax

      It is often quoted by the Western media that Muslim schools ghettoizes the children, and even lead to their radicalisation if they are not integrated. There is no evidence that faith schools lead to a “ghettoized education system. In British schools, pupils are encouraged to focus too much on their similarities rather than their differences.

  4. So far as cousin marriage is concerned, it has long been recognised that it can cause genetic problems. It was the practice is Europe too, for much the same reasons as with the Muslims, to keep resources within the family and/or tribe, as well as knowing the families. Hindus apparently marry outside of their tribe, although I don’t know the reasons for that. Have to make some enquiries.

  5. Iftikhara – A further reminder. An acquaintance recently asked me why I didn’t speak Urdu, after so many years of marriage to a Pakistani. I said that there had never been a need. Yet he and his wife have lived here for 40 years or so, and his wife does not speak English. And that situation is not unusual, and neither is it acceptable.

    • Research has shown that bilingualism is beneficial for children’s development and their future. Children exposed to different languages become more aware of different cultures, other people and other points of view. But they also tend to be better than monolinguals at ‘multitasking’ and focusing attention. They are often more precocious readers, and generally find it easier to learn other languages. Bilingualism gives children much more than two languages!

      More recent research also suggests that learning another language may have benefits in later life, delaying the onset of dementia symptoms, and slowing cognitive aging. The good news is that these benefits seem to exist even when people learn a second language later in life. So it is never too lat

      More than 300 different languages are now spoken in British schools. And in England, over 20% of primary school children use English as an additional language.

      This equates to over 900,000 children for whom English is not their first language. These children might have been born in another country, their parents might speak another language to them at home, or they might just know a few words of another language because their grandparents immigrated to England a long time ago. But just like any other pupil, they attend schools across the country, speak (or learn to speak) in English and participate in the national curriculum. Yet the fact these children also bring with them a rich understanding of another language and culture can often go unnoticed.

      In the 2011 British Census, for example, 4.2m people reported having a main language other than English. And just over half of all Europeans claim to speak at least one other language in addition to their mother tongue.

      Research shows that some children never have the opportunity to use their home language at school. And in some cases, their teachers might not even know they speak another language.

      In the absence of school or community support, these children can sometimes end up losing their home languages. This is something that may be particularly true in highly monolingual areas which experience less immigration.

      I think the problem is that, as the UK has become more and more diverse, the curriculum has become more and more restricted. Young teachers (and that’s most of them) don’t often have the opportunity or the courage to step away from the set learning and try something different. No fault of theirs – the fault lies in our deeply flawed system. Try learning a new language. It will open up a different culture and new ways of seeing the world to you, more fun, and more friends. I recently went to a meeting were four languages were spoken, and none of us spoke them all. But we managed, and we achieved results that could not have been achieved had we each spoken only our native language. Many workplaces function very well on more than one language. 🙂 Don’t succumb to nativist fear!

      In Finland, every child who has a mother tongue which is not Finnish or Swedish (the official languages) is entitled to two lessons per week in their native language. In my city, dozens of different languages are taught in schools under this scheme. It enables the children to maintain/improve their mother tongue language skills in an academic environment, outside the home. This can have huge benefits for the country (eg economic) as well as for the children (language learning supports overall literacy). “Bilingualism is something we usually celebrate in adults yet not always in the classroom, where English is usually prioritised.” – curious to see how the word “prioritise” has acquired a bad connotation. Surely schools should be to prepare children for life not just the workplace. But in both situations knowledge of more than one language is a bonus. Recognising respecting and encouraging our community languages rather than undermining and even mocking them might be the best place to start.

      Muslim children must learn and be well versed in English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time they must learn and be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural heritage and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry, otherwise, they would be lost in western jungle.

  6. ‘More than 300 different languages are now spoken in British schools. And in England, over 20% of primary school children use English as an additional language.’

    Iftikhara – I have only just seen your last post with the above quotation. When I arrived in England from Europe as an 8-year old, I could not speak a word of English, and started in an ordinary school where it did not take me long to learn English. There were very few other foreign children around or in my school. I learnt French and Spanish as foreign languages, and there was my mother tongue too which formed part of my private life.

    How things have changed! ‘Now more than 300 different languages are spoken in British schools, and in England, over 20% of primary school children use English as an additional language.’ Surely you can’t think that is right. English should be the FIRST language, not an additional language. Children of foreign origin should in some instances, where it is practical, be accommodated with tuition in their language of origin as a lesson. Otherwise it has to be a private matter, along with religion. It is unreasonable to expect the country to cater for every child’s linguistic needs. If you migrate to another country it is necessary to adapt. If you are born here you become a British citizen, with English as the first language.

  7. “Risks of congenital problems doubles in cousin marriages”.

    There are 94% chances of baby, free of birth defects in cousin marriages.
    There are 97% chances of baby, free of birth defects in non cousin marriages.

    In other words, uncontrolled risk increases by meager >0.03% . This figure is quite reassuring for most cousins who wants to marry.

    Through genetic counselling before marriage, cousins may achieve even higher chances of healthy baby. Prenatal testing will further increase chances of healthy baby. (Maternal blood tests, Amniocentesis, Chorionic villus sampling, Ultrasonography).

    It is a matter of genetic education. There is no reason to condemn cousin marriages.

    Today by genetic counselling BEFORE PREGNANCY and prenatal testing DURING PREGNANCY, cousins may have better than 97% chance of having baby, free of birth defects.

  8. Everyone’s situation is different. There is a big difference between cousins who are happy to marry each other and those who were told they would be marrying their cousin whether they wanted to or not. In terms of birth defects most people know the risks involved when marrying a first cousin. Widen the net people please.

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