The tragic truth about cousin marriages: They can cause a litany of genetic illnesses and they’re a key factor in the deaths of two children a week in Britain, so why is it taboo to talk about them, asks SUE REID


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Source: Daily Mail, UK

  • The World Health Organisation insists that attempts to stop consanguineous marriage are ‘undesirable and inappropriate’
  • The stance of local councils in Britain, including multi-cultural Oldham in Lancashire, tallies with this view
  • In the former cotton mill town, 20 babies born each year have a consanguinity-related disorder, of whom 11 live with chronic disability
  • Yet the Health and Wellbeing Board overseen by Oldham council recently said cousin marriage is an ‘integral part of cultural and social life’

Her life stretches ahead of her, yet at the age of just 18 she is already discussing with her family whether she should have an arranged marriage, and whether her future husband should be a cousin.

For Hiba comes from the city’s British-Pakistani community, in which around 60 per cent of mothers are married to their cousins according, to a major academic study.

Hiba Maroof (centre) with her parents, Maroof and Nuzhat, at home in Bradford

Hiba Maroof (centre) with her parents, Maroof and Nuzhat, at home in Bradford

Her uncle, Younis, hopes that Hiba does so and follows his family tradition.

Indeed, four of his own five children have wed close relatives. However, Hiba’s father is unsure. And her mother is very much against her daughter marrying such a close relative because her own first marriage — to a cousin — ended in divorce.

Hiba, single and a student at the University of Leeds, faces a common dilemma. Her story came to public attention because she featured in a BBC documentary called Should I Marry My Cousin?, which looked at the custom of cousin marriage.

Relationships described as ‘consanguineous’ are those between couples who are at least second cousins or more closely related. The practice has been legal in Britain for more than 400 years, but is considered one of society’s last taboos.

In British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, marriage between cousins is designed to strengthen the family and keep wealth intact.

But there are massive health risks involved for the children of such couples. And when they are tragically born with disabilities, it is taxpayers who are left to pick up the huge costs of their NHS treatment, which can run into millions over a lifetime.


Suggested reading

Cousin Marriage – Why? – Why Not?

First Cousin Marriages in Pakistani families Leading To Disabilities among Children

Cousin Marriages: A Fair and Balanced View

5 replies

  1. British Pakistanis are 13 times more likely to have children with genetic disorders than the general population – they account for just over 3% of all births but have just under a third of all British children with such illnesses.

    Indeed, Birmingham Primary Care Trust estimates that one in ten of all children born to first cousins in the city either dies in infancy or goes on to develop serious disability as a result of a recessive genetic disorder.

  2. Well, I would be more worried about protecting our genomes. The biggest insults to the genomes are coming from our lifestyle, pollution, new use of chemicals, drugs, radiation etc. If genome is intact, cousin marriage poses no problems. Hardy-Weinberg equation predicts the same. Animal world clearly indicates this, where close rather what we call ‘incest’ does not bring such concerns. Once, however, you increase the rate of mutation in a population, then avoiding cousin marriage is only buying time. Marriages in close communities is a very old practice with no obvious consequences – the reason now there are, is due to genome insults.
    So protect your genome!

  3. In my family there cousin mirages, are frequent;
    My grands were cousins …had normal children
    so was my father… had eleven kids all normal
    my marriage was outside …. my kids are all good
    my daughter married his cousion, one in auto, two are normal
    one of my neice was wed outside had a magol
    one of my nephew wed outside had a mangol
    my aother neice weded cousiuons had three normal children

    what you conclude……?

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