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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Junction News Anniversary : First Cousin Marriage in Britain

Originally posted in August of last year this post dealt with the thorny issue of first cousin marriage among the Pakistani community in Britain. It was written based on information contained in Channel 4's dispatches series. 

A fascinating documentary on Britain's Channel 4 last night (available on 4OD for British and Irish residents) shed light on the common practice of first cousin marriage in the British Pakistani population. The reporter Tazeen Ahmed documents her family's story on the Channel 4 website also. Her grand-parents were first cousins. Four of her uncles were deaf and her mother was the only daughter of 6 to survive past being a toddler.

Despite making up just 1.5% of the population a third of all children born with rare genetic conditions are ethnic Pakistanis. A half of all Pakistani's in Britain marry their first cousins. A child born to first cousin parents is ten times more likely to be born with recessive genetic disorders including deafness, blindness and child mortality. Cultures in Bangladesh, West Africa and the Middle East also partake in the practice but generally to a much lesser extent.
When her grand-parents married the extent of scientific research on the subject of first cousin marriage was quite limited and thus it wasn't until much later that Today however, there are currently 70 studies in the UK alone proclaiming the problems that arise as a result of first cousin marriage.

However, in the program Ms Ahmed meets with numerous people who proclaim the benefits of the practice saying that it helps maintain close ties between members of a family. Many said their families had been unaffected by the practice or denied its links to first cousin marriage. She met an Imam who simply stated that Shariah law says that there is nothing wrong with the practice and said he couldn't comment on the issue. When he was given the research on the issue he declined to comment.

And why is the opinion of the Imam so important in the battle against the practice? Well Pakistani Britains generally come from strict Muslim backgrounds and feel victimized when politicians speak out against the dangers of first cousin marriages, as if it is another prong in the West's ongoing war on Islam. Thus, politically the issue is ignored for fear of losing votes and traditional Imams see nothing wrong with the practice. This has to change to have any hope of saving children from needless severe disabilities.

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