Monday, February 11, 2008


British Muslims are in 'denial' over inbreeding birth defects, says second Labour MP

A second MP has waded into the controversial debate over increased birth defects in British Muslims as a result of inbreeding and claims parts of the Pakistani community are in "denial".

Labour's Ann Cryer, who represents Keighley in West Yorkshire, called for community leaders to encourage talks that she believed would move more families away from marriages between cousins.

Her call for debate followed comments from Environment Minister Phil Woolas who said there was a "duty" to raise the issue, which was not being addressed.

He insisted that the marriages - which are legal in the UK - were a cultural, not a religious, issue based in the traditions of rural parts of Pakistan.

His comments were backed by Chief Whip Geoff Hoon who said there was a "particular problem" that needed expert analysis.

Today Ms Cryer backed the debate that had been started on the issue.

She called on community leaders to increase awareness and claimed that the "vast majority" of trans-continental marriages in Bradford were between cousins and these could have "tragic" impacts.

She first raised the issue more than two years ago after research showed British Pakistanis were 13 times more likely to have children with recessive disorders than the general population.

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, backed the calls to raise public awareness and said in general mortality and disability almost doubled among cousin marriages.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Ms Cryer said:
"The vast majority of marriages in the Muslim community in Bradford, 80% are trans-continental.

"The vast majority of those are to cousins. Many of those do result in either infant mortality or in recessive disorders."

Asked if the problem was recognised in the British Pakistani community she said:
"They are in denial at the moment.

"But I am hoping that now we have broken the silence leaders will start to have a debate about it and perhaps even give advice and say 'Look you can carry on marrying your cousins but there is a price to pay.'

"The price to pay is often in either babies being born dead, babies being born very early and babies being born with very severe genetically-transmitted disorders.

"This is a blight on that community, but particularly on specific families."

Prof Jones told the same programme that the risks should not be overstated.

He said:
"Lets bear in mind that families like the Rothschilds married their cousins frequently.

"In Bradford the Office of National Statistics says there is an increase of about five or so infant deaths a year because of cousin marriage, particularly among the Asian community there.

"Bear in mind that there are something like 70 infant deaths altogether in Bradford per year so the effect isn't that great."

He said smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy, was "as bad if not worse."

Asked about the statistics for birth defects he said:
"In general mortality and disability go up by about almost twice in cousin marriages compared to general.

"Bear in mind that the overall levels of disability is fairly low but the effect is certainly there."

Prof Jones said cousin marriages were quite common in Spain and were still common in Muslim communities in the world.


Pertinent Links:

1) British Muslims are in 'denial' over inbreeding birth defects, says second Labour MP

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