Recently, cricketer Shahid Afridi got his daughter married to her first cousin. After the pictures came on the internet, the netizens mocked them and this culture of marrying cousins in Pakistan. Although it’s laughable to some extent, we need to understand that marrying cousins brings you a lot of genetic disorders and diseases for the offspring.
According to a study looking for answers to the higher than expected rates of deaths and congenital abnormalities in Pakistani babies, marriage between first cousins doubles the risk of children being born with birth defects.
Researchers concluded that the cultural practise of marriage between first cousins is the most important factor, outweighing the effects of deprivation in Bradford, where the study was conducted. Marriage to a blood relative was responsible for nearly a third (31%) of all birth defects in Pakistani babies.
The risk of having a baby with birth defects is still low, but it increases from 3% in the general Pakistani population to 6% between those married to blood relatives. The researchers also discovered a doubling of the risk in babies born to white British women over the age of 34. This increased risk, which has risen from 2% to 4%, is already known.
Every year, approximately 90 more babies die as a result of birth defects than would be expected in the Pakistani community in England and Wales. However, the issue is extremely sensitive because marriage within families is a long-standing cultural tradition.
Previous studies have sparked debate, but the paper’s lead author, Dr Eamonn Sheridan of Leeds University, stated that the Born in Bradford study, which followed the health of 13,500 babies delivered at the Bradford Royal Infirmary between 2007 and 2011, had strong community involvement.
The researchers examined a variety of factors that may play a role in birth defects in the multi-ethnic study, which was published in the Lancet. These factors included deprivation, obesity, and smoking in mothers.
Despite the fact that two-thirds of the babies came from the most deprived fifth of the UK population, socioeconomic status did not explain the birth defects. In this population, maternal smoking, alcohol use, and obesity were not found to be risk factors. Greater maternal education was a protective factor across all ethnicities.
“This is the first study that has been able to explore all causes of congenital anomaly in a population where there are sufficient numbers in both consanguineous [related by blood] and non-consanguineous groups to come to reliable conclusions,” said Professor Neil Small of the University of Bradford, who co-led the research.
It’s difficult to advocate for changes in other people’s cultural traditions, but Sheridan believes a change in practise could save babies’ lives. “The only other large cohort study is of the Norwegian Pakistani community. The number of first-cousin marriages in that community is now decreasing “He stated.
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