Marriages among cousins increasing in UAE
Marriages between cousins has become more common in the UAE, despite a decrease in frequency elsewhere in the Arab world, a conference heard on Wednesday.
A survey found that 50.5 per cent of UAE marriages were between cousins, and 26 per cent of those were first cousins.
However, that figure represents a rise from previous studies, said Dr Ahmad Teebi, a professor of paediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.
“While this trend has been declining elsewhere, we are seeing an increase in the UAE,” he told Khaleej Times in a phone interview. “However, the increase is still relatively small.”
Teebi said that the practice of cousin marriages had decreased in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Mauritania and the Palestinian population in Israel.
At a conference in Doha on Wednesday, Teebi spoke of potential problems of first cousin marriages.
“In the case of first-cousin marriage, a couple’s chance of having a baby with a birth defect rises from three per cent, which is the non-cousin marriage rate, to between 4.5 and six per cent,” said Teebi.
“In the case of second-cousin marriages, the risk increases only slightly above that of the general population.
“The frequency of a normally-rare disease can increase among populations that marry within the family,” he added.
“This is known as founder effect and can be observed in geographically isolated areas and among populations that practice intermarriage based on circumstances, customs, beliefs or economics. We also see an increase in the number of miscarriages as a result of this practice.”
It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of marriages worldwide today are between first cousins, said Teebi. Reasons for the practice include geographical isolation, social or psychological support, convenience and tradition, he added.
“Avoiding cousin marriage will result in a real reduction of the frequency of birth defects and genetic diseases in general,” Dr. Teebi said. “But if marriage between a close relative is unavoidable, I encourage premarital genetic counselling. This may include carrier testing and would help the couple and their doctor create a plan for prevention.”
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