Why Not To Marry Your Cousin by Madiha Munir

The marriage arena in Pakistan is largely dominated by the arranged marriage variety,
whereby friends or relatives help in introducing and then gradually abridging the gap between
two people. Once the boy and the girl are made to meet, it is usually for a short while where
they can hardly get to talk to each other. Sometimes this is followed by short and quick meet
up sessions and the emphasis is on two families rather than two individuals getting familiar
and coming close together. This entire task is accomplished relatively easier and faster if both
parties are from the same family; also known as inter family marriages. Not a common
practice in the West, however in the Middle Eastern region and Pakistan it is still widely
practiced.
Consanguineous marriage is common in all of the GCC countries, the most common ones
being marriages between first cousins, followed by second cousin matrimonies. The biggest
side effect of cousin marriages is the health risk that it entails, specifically the higher chances
of birth defects in babies resulting from these marriages. These bonds can result in genetic
defects in the off springs as shown by numerous researches and studies. This is because the
related parents can possess shared identical DNA and genetic material which increases the
chances of carrying genes for recessive traits. The parents are often carriers of diseases like
thalassemia and need to be screened before entering into the matrimonial bond. Studies have
shown that children born out of inter family marriages are thirteen times more likely to suffer
from a genetic disorder then those born of non-related parents. The birth defects in babies are
usually heart or nervous system related and can be fatal
The practice of inter family marriages is too old a custom and much revered by many
communities to completely let go. Advocates of cousin marriages emphasise on the social
support it builds around families and how burdens (dowry, etc.) are shared or eliminated. It is
also believed to strengthen the overall family structure and increase peace and harmony.
What can be done and should be done however is to provide pre-marital counselling to
couples and also comprehensive genetic education. Also these couples should undertake their
required health tests and get themselves screened so that they are aware of exactly what kind
of health issues can be expected post marriage.

Author: Madiha Munir

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