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Minister’s remarks spark row in UK

world Updated: Jun 07, 2012 16:17 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt
Hindustan Times
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Britain’s junior Environment Minister Phil Woolas has sparked a fresh row by his comments on Monday that inbreeding among immigrant communities was responsible for a growth in birth defects.

Woolas claimed that the culture of arranged marriages between first cousins was the “elephant in the room… If you have a child with your cousin the likelihood is there’ll be a genetic problem.”

The Minister, however, 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. “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 it’s caused by first cousin marriage. That’s a cultural thing rather than a religious thing. It is not illegal in this country,” the Minister maintained.

Most consider Woolas, who represents the ethnically mixed seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth, as a “habitual offender”. He has previously warned that Muslim women who wear headscarves could provoke “fear and resentment”.

Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, who earned the community’s wrath for campaigning against forced marriages and ill-treatment of women, supported Woolas.