The issue regarding consanguinity (cousin marriage) is one that is sensitive and personal to many British Pakistani Muslims. Thus the results reported by the Born in Bradford project must be dealt with sensatively to avoid community tensions.
For those of you who are unaware of what the BIB team did;
”We collected information from medical records about children with one or more congenital anomalies who had been born between 2007 and 2011 to mothers recruited to the Born in Bradford (BiB) study.” (The Lanclet)
From these results two patterns emerged;
”We found overall rates for congenital anomalies in the BiB babies are nearly double national rates (approximately 30 in every 1000 births). Two main factors were linked with an increased risk of having a baby with a congenital anomaly:
1. Amongst White British mothers, risk was doubled in those aged over 34 years.
2. When a mother is married to her cousin. (About 37% of Pakistani mothers in the Born in Bradford study are married to first cousins and 63% overall of Pakistani mothers are married to a blood relative. Within the group married to a blood relative there was a doubling of the risk of a baby being born with a congenital anomaly compared to the overall level of risk found in this study.” (The Lanclet)
The BIB project researchers are hoping that these new findings will encourage midwives to discuss these risks during ante-natal care. For a long time we have been aware of the fact that in some cases marrying your cousin can cause health defects in your children. The defence has always been that it is not a majority occurrence. This is also pointed out in the report;
“It is important to note that the vast majority of babies born to couples who are blood relatives are absolutely fine, and whilst consanguineous marriage increases the risk of birth defect from 3% to 6%, the absolute risk is still small. We should also remember that consanguinity only accounts for a third of birth defects.” Geneticist and lead author Dr Eamonn Sheridan
We know that not all children born from cousin marriages have birth defects, and no one is saying that you should or should not marry your cousin. You are entitled to marry who you please. This is NOT the issue. (so please refrain from sending me abusive messages on how i’m against consanguinity because this post is NOT saying that) The issue is that if you want to marry your cousin, or if it is a practise that is to be continued, the risk it poses to the next generation must be assessed. Especially given that;
” in the Pakistani subgroup, 77% of babies born with birth defects were to parents who were in consanguineous marriages.” (The Lancelet)
77%!!! thats a huge percentage. So what do we do?
1) We stop being so defensive when it comes to birth defects due to consanguinital marriages. We accept that its a consequence, (even if it occurs only in a small number of cases).
2) Once we have accepted it, we start discussing preventative measures. The most obvious may seem to be to halt the practice of consanguinity amongst those who carry great risk of producing children with birth defects, but that is not going to happen, so instead we need to be pro active. If you are marrying a cousin who has a genetic illness or carries a trait of one then sit down with a medical professional and assess the risk you carry of producing a child with a severe birth defect.
Let me give you an example to make it more clear; I know of a consanguinental couple who have one child who is without birth defect (their first child) all subsequent children have either miscarried and two have been born with severe birth defects only living to the age of 4 at most. This is tragic and I can not imagine the pain the couple have been through. The father’s brother is now suffering the same with one of his children. I know of another couple where the father carries a certain gene which has caused mental disability, he has four children and of them two have severe mental disabilities. I could sit here and write forever on all the other cases I know of, but they are two of the most extreme I have come across.
Now I cannot explain or even begin to imagine how tragic and upsetting it is. Only those parents know the tragedy of losing a child, or the sacrifice that comes with bearing a child with huge birth defects. Yet we can prevent this. By TALKING about it. By sitting down and assessing the risk factor and if the medical professional says you have a maximum risk of bearing a child with birth defects then it seems simple to state dont have children. But it is more complex that, many will state that God is a higher power and that He can give a child without defect, in other words they live in hope. Even if that is, in most cases false hope.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong advocate of hope and prayer. But you have to be rational. God will not help you if you don’t help yourself. If you are witnessing a pattern of infant mortality in your family, do not continue blindly. Stop and make a difference. It will benefit everyone and decrease the risk in the next generation. So you are doing yourself a huge service.
Honestly, I am glad that these report has come out. It has confirmed facts that we already as a community know. The important work starts now. How do we move on from this? Do we continue to pretend that it will sort itself out? Do we become defensive and state that this is an attack on our culture and values? or do we do the hardest thing which is accept it, educate ourselves, our community and try to prevent it in the best and most appropiate manner possible? That decision, ladies and gents, lies with you. How will you react to this? The future of your children’s health is at stake, in the most literal sense.
Do comment on what you think about this reports findings, and how you think we can prevent this. It will interesting to see people’s reactions.