Cousin marriages are making Pakistani children ill and are killing them

Cousin marriages, Pakistani children, mental retardation, Lysosomal Storage Disorder, genetic disorder, Pakistan, Muslims

Forget mental retardation, Pakistani children are facing a shortened lifespan all thanks to the prevalence of cousin marriages in the nation.

Experts opine that the trend of cousin marriages between a clan and caste must be discouraged or else Pakistani children would continue to suffer from genetic diseases called Lysosomal Storage Disorder (LSD).

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The threat level from cousin marriages can be gauged from the fact that these children do not survive beyond five years of age if not being treated for LSD. But even after the treatment, a child may just be ‘near normal’ and not fully normal which is worrisome.

Treatment for cousin marriages exists, but is too expensive! So prevention is better than cure:

But the problem is that this treatment is very expensive and therefore, experts believe that regulation of marriages is needed and the cousin marriages must be discouraged in castes and clans.

Such children do not survive more than five years if not diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Treatment of LSD changes the outcome from a miserable death to a near normal existence, but it is still very expensive.

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Cousin marriages came under the scanner yet again after some Pakistani experts spoke at the Lahore’s Children’s Hospital led by its Department of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology this Saturday.

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This panel comprised of retired Maj Gen Prof Dr Salman Ali, an adviser to armed forces on paediatrics; Prof Dr Huma Arshad Cheema, the head of Children’s Hospital Paediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology; Prof Tahir Shamsi, the project director of Bone Marrow Transplantation Center at Children’s Hospital; Dr Hani Akbar Rao and Dr Fareedudin, reported the Dawn.

Earlier, a study titled “Key factors in understanding differences in rates of birth defects identified” had brought to light that in Pakistan, 77 % of babies born with birth defects were to parents who did consanguineous marriages. More than a billion people worldwide live in communities where consanguineous marriages take place and are common occurrences which thus normalizes cousin marriages and makes people oblivious to the threats it poses to mankind.

Prof Dr Huma Arshad Cheema, Dawn reported, said that LSD was caused by defect in special enzymes required to break down certain waste products in the body and the defect led to interference with normal cellular function. The symptoms include abnormal bony changes, recurrent chest infections, enlarged liver and spleen and Central Nervous System manifestation.

Cheema also added that:

“The severity of disorder varies but symptoms start appearing as early as one year of age. Due to lack of awareness, diagnosis is often late and the affected children die at young age.”

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In a report by Pakistani newspaper Dawn titled Deformities in Charsadda: Cousin marriages, and the heavy price children pay, it speaks of Mian Kalay village and cites the case of Zahirullah Khan whose two children died before attaining puberty. The report says that for last 40-years, almost every third home in the village, which is situated some 30 kilometers south of Peshawar, has children suffering from birth defects.

Birth defects range from cerebral palsy, blindness, mental disorders, thalassemia, physical deformities and speech and hearing impairments, says the report. Doctors of the area squarely blamed cousin marriages for this sad occurrence.

This 350 household village has two major tribes Miya and Shpon, and marriages are happening motsly between them.

Dr Muhammad Ali, a District Health Officer (DHO) at Charsadda’s district hospital, told the author of the Dawn report that “birth defects due to inter-family marriages is not just prevalent in Mian Kalay; this can happen anywhere in the world where there is inbreeding.”

But the question is that how can people stop cousin marriages when it is part of the dominant culture?

Pic credit: AFP/Getty Images. Used for representation purpose only