Dipesh Gadher, Christopher Morgan and Jonathan Oliver
(Times Online Sunday
10 Feb 2008)
Phil Woolas, an environment minister, said the culture of arranged marriages between first cousins was the elephant in the room. Woolas, a former race relations minister, said: If you have a child with your cousin the likelihood is therell be a genetic problem.
The minister, whose views were supported by medical experts this weekend, said: The issue we need to debate is first cousin marriages, whereby a lot of arranged marriages are with first cousins, and that produces lots of genetic problems in terms of disability [in children].
Woolas emphasised the practice did not extend to all Muslim communities but was confined mainly to families originating from rural Pakistan. However, up to half of all marriages within these communities are estimated to involve first cousins.
The ministers comments come as Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, rejected calls to resign over claims that Islamic law should be introduced in Britain. Im not contemplating resignation, he told friends.
Williams insists his remarks were misinterpreted and that he was not advocating a parallel sharia jurisdiction for Muslims, but Lord Carey, his predecessor, warned acceptance of Muslim laws in Britain would be "disastrous".
The archbishop is believed to have received hate mail since he made his controversial comments but has rejected offers of round-the-clock police protection.
Williams is set to clash with the government again this week by voicing
opposition to plans to extend detention without charge for terrorist suspects
to 42 days.>>>>>>
Woolas, who represents the ethnically mixed seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth, has previously warned that Muslim women who wear headscarves could provoke fear and resentment. Yesterday, he was similarly outspoken.
If you talk to any primary care worker they will tell you that levels of disability among the . . . Pakistani population are higher than the general population. And everybody knows its caused by first cousin marriage.
Thats a cultural thing rather than a religious thing. It is not illegal in this country.
The problem is that many of the parents themselves and many of the public spokespeople are themselves products of first cousin marriages. Its very difficult for people to say you cant do that because its a very sensitive, human thing.
He added that the issue is not talked about. The health authorities look into it. Most health workers and primary care trusts in areas like mine are very aware of it. But its a very sensitive issue. Thats why its not even a debate and people outside of these areas dont really know it exists.
Woolas was supported by Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, who called for the NHS to do more to warn parents of the dangers of inbreeding.
This is to do with a medieval culture where you keep wealth within the family, she said.
If you go into a paediatric ward in Bradford or Keighley you will find more than half of the kids there are from the Asian community. Since Asians only represent 20%-30% of the population, you can see that they are over represented.
I have encountered cases of blindness and deafness. There was one poor girl who had to have an oxygen tank on her back and breathe from a hole in the front of her neck.
The parents were warned they should not have any more children. But when the husband returned again from Pakistan, within months they had another child with exactly the same condition.
Introduce a religious age of consent for children born to Muslim parents.
wayne, huntingdon, cambridgeshire
First cousin marriage may exist in other Muslim communities, but is much encouraged in rural Pakistan by liberal UK Immigration laws.
Pakistan marriage often involves a transfer of land from the groom's family to the bride. First cousin marriage allows land to remain within the extended family. An additional but unwritten part of the contract is that the Pakistan resident party obtains entry to the UK and therefore to its employment and welfare possibilities. This is especially valuable to Pakistan born boys who otherwise would have fewer means of entry to Britain.
A change of law to compel UK resident Pakistani (and Bangladeshi) families to arrange for their children to marry other UK resident members of their community, would mitigate the problem. But that of course is not going to happen any time soon.