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?

5 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.

  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.

  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.

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