While studies have proven that marriages between cousins increases the chances of birth defects, research reveals that many families in the M-East ward (Shivaji Nagar, Govandi) continue with the tradition. Because of this, a large number of children living there suffer from birth defects.
According to a recent study by a non-government organisation (NGO) Apnalaya, 85 of the 580 people registered with their disability programme are children born out of consanguineous marriages (marriage between first and second cousins, or uncle and niece). Another 150 (75 couples) of the 580 people were themselves in a consanguineous marriage. The disabilities include bone problems, speech impairment and visual impairment.
Studies reveal that if parents are unrelated then the risk of having a child with a birth defect is 1%-2%. This rises to 5%-6% if parents have common ancestors. Such marriages are common in Muslim and South Indians communities, the study states.
Arun Kumar, CEO, Apnalaya said, “With this study, we want to undertake an awareness building in the community because a large number of people still do not accept that there is a link between consanguineous marriages and birth defects.”
The data also revealed that men and women disagreed on whether marrying one’s cousin can cause birth defects. 84% of women interviewed agreed that there is a co-relation, but only 15% men said that there is a link. “Some women who did not support consanguineous marriages said that their opinion was of little significance since the husbands are the decision-makers,” the report states.
“Girls facing disability are also more stigmatised in comparison to the boys as the pressure for marriage for disabled girls increases at an early stage,” Kumar said. The average age for girls getting married is just 17, the report reveals.
The study states that parents opt for marriages within families as it is their tradition, families are known, their daughter remains in the same family and also economic reasons like property remaining within families.
The M-East ward ranks the lowest in human development indices in the city with an average life expectancy of 39 years. It houses large slums and one of the biggest dumping grounds, which poses a health risk.