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One of the Biggest Challenges Facing Sudan is Genetic written by Mustafa Fagog Badri

01-13-2019, 05:04 AM
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One of the Biggest Challenges Facing Sudan is Genetic written by Mustafa Fagog Badri

    One of the Biggest Challenges Facing Sudan is Genetic
    written by Mustafa Fagog Badri
    My parents homeland faces numerous challenges on their long road to becoming a well functioning democratic society. Attention is rightly paid to issues such as ethnic disunity, weak institutions, egregious poverty and crumbling infrastructure. But one issue that does not receive the attention it is due, is the widespread nature of cousin marriage in Sudan, more specifically the genetic and societal consequences it creates.
    Historically throughout the world consanguineous marriages have been commonplace. Even in the west until very recently it was not associated with the stigma it is today. Many will be surprised to learn that both Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein married their first cousins in 1839 and 1919 respectively. It was not until the mid 19th century that a notable change in the attitudes of westerners began to occur.
    In the 1870s, American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan was writing about "the advantages of marriages between unrelated persons”, advocating that people should shy away from “the evils of consanguine marriage.” In 1846, a commission under Massachusetts governor George N. Briggs studied mentally handicapped people and implicated cousin marriage as responsible for what was then termed “idiocy.” A report from The Kentucky Deaf and Dumb Asylum found that cousin marriage sometimes resulted in blindness, deafness and idiocy. And maybe the most decisive report at the time by physician Samuel Merrifield Bemiss, concluded that “cousin inbreeding does lead to the physical and mental depravation of the offspring.” In recent times more studies have been conducted which have further implicated cousins conceiving with a variety of negative health outcomes. This is worrying news for Sudan, which has one of the highest rates of cousin marriages in the world.
    Thorough research has been conducted on the British Pakistani community, among whom, 50-75% of all marriages are between first cousins. The consequences of such a high cousin marriage rate have been nothing short of disastrous. British Pakistani parents only make up 3.4% of all births nationwide, but account for 30% of children born with recessive gene disorders. A 2008 analysis of infant mortality in Birmingham showed that "South Asians" had twice the infant mortality rate and 3 times the rate of infant mortality due to congenital anomalies.
    Another effect of cousin marriage that has been well documented in several populations, is IQ depression in the offspring. Studies have put the number somewhere between a 2.5 to 10 average IQ point decrease. Considering what we now know about the importance of IQ, the significance of that depression should not be
    dismissed. IQ has been shown to be positively correlated with academic performance, educational attainment, job performance, income and creativity. Given the high rate of cousin marriage in Sudan, it is reasonable to assume that the IQ depression is closer to 10 points than 2.5, which will have resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of IQ points across the nation.
    Aside from the genetic consequences there are also societal and governmental ones. Italy illustrates this clearly for us. Local government has been found to be much weaker in the southern parts of the nation where cousin marriage is common, than in the northern parts where it is very rare. The southern parts of the country are also where the mafia is strongest. It seems to be the case that the high rate of cousin marriage helps maintain the clan structure the mafia benefits from, which simultaneously damages the legitimacy of Italian institutions in those same parts of the country.
    Critics of those who worry out loud about the rate consanguineous marriages will often say that the risks have been overblown, and are in fact very small. When a study in the UK found that British Pakistani children were twice as likely to be born with “potentially life threatening birth defects”, contrarians called the reactions alarmist, pointing out that this only resulted in a 6% risk among British Pakistani children, compared to 3% in the population as a whole. That would make the birth defect risk comparable to a 40 year old woman having a child. No one is after all saying that women over 40 should be prevented from reproducing؟
    These objections accomplish nothing other than muddying the water. Yes, it is true that in isolation the health risks of cousins reproducing are relatively small. Cousins after all only share around 12.5% of their genes. However, societies that practice cousin marriage are likely to have been doing that for generations, meaning there is recent history of genetically similar ancestors reproducing. The reality is that upon examination cousins in these societies often do not share 12.5% of their DNA, it is frequently significantly higher. One example which illustrates the point is the phenomena of double cousins. Say two sisters meet two brothers, they pair up and both couples produce one child each. The two resulting children would be double cousins and would share 25% of their genes, not 12.5%. Equal to the percentage of genes shared by two half siblings, or a grandparent and grandchild. If those two children chose to reproduce with one another, the risks would be objectionably high. Add to that a generational history of consanguineous marriage, coupled with a small enough gene pool and you could find “cousins” sharing closer to 50% of their genes than 12.5%. This guarantees what geneticists call “recessive” conditions, meaning conditions caused by inheriting two copies of a gene, one from each parent, with each gene carrying a mutation.
    This is a reality the Sudanese community both in Sudan and abroad has to accept and grapple with. It will require a huge cultural change in a nation where the practice is

    commonplace and socially accepted. Studies have put the rate of first and second cousin marriage in Sudan between 40-49% of all marriages.
    A systematic acceptance of cousin marriage in Sudan is likely to have taken place as a by-product of Islamisation occurring together with Arabisation. Islamic scripture permits cousin marriage, and the fact that Muhammed married his first cousin complicates the matter further for those who seek to deter the practice in Sudan. In a nation where the vast majority view him to be the very embodiment of the perfect human character, it is to be expected that Muslims seek to emulate their prophet and any implication from outsiders that this might be unwise can be considered blasphemous. The religious authorities in Sudan are guaranteed to be a barrier to progress. In contrast, Christian authorities have often been the very drivers of social change on the issue. First and second cousin marriages were banned by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Agde in AD 506. In more recent times, Christian churches of several denominations seem to have accepted the arguments put forth by scientists without protracted resistance. I would not bet money on it being met with the same indifference among Islamic scholars and clerics.
    There is however reason for cautious optimism. Two of the four Sunni madhhabs (schools of thought) do consider cousin marriage Makruh (disliked). There are also three Hadiths which favour marriage outside of the family, although all three are considered ḍaʿīf (weak). Scholars like Ibn Qudamah and Al-Ghazali prefer marriage outside the family, arguing that if a divorce between related spouses were to occur, this would weaken the family bond which is sacred in Islam.
    Arabisation seem to be even more strongly correlated with consanguineous marriage than Islamisation. There are several muslim countries that do not have an abnormally high rate of consanguineous marriage, Indonesia, Bosnia and Kazakhstan are examples of that. These countries are also alike in that that they were Islamised but not Arabised. The high rate of cousin marriage in the Arab world appears to have preceded the advent of Islam, then spread as they conquered lands, built settlements and converted the indigenous population. Among Jews in Israel for example, the highest rate of cousin marriage was found among Iraqi jews (28.7%).
    Whatever factor, or combination of factors that allowed consanguineous marriage to gain social legitimacy in Sudan, the current status quo just has to be broken. A damaging and divisive clan structure is being reinforced at the cost of already fragile institutions, while simultaneously impeding GDP growth and economic dynamism. Most tragically, there is a tremendous cost incurred by an inadequate healthcare system, along with needless misery being inflicted upon children who are born with completely avoidable afflictions.
    First and foremost a cultural change has to occur for there to also be a change in the mindset of the Sudanese people. In the service of this cultural change, upperclass and upper middle class Sudanese people will serve a crucial role. It is disappointing to

    note that in Sudan unlike many other parts of the world, cousin marriage is not just highly prevalent among the poor, it could in fact very well be even more common among the wealthier. Had it been restricted to the most uneducated, one can be forgiven for recommending education as the be-all end-all solution. But while education certainly would help, it is only one of many measures that need to be taken. The people who are fortunate enough to have been sufficiently educated, who have the power to influence the culture and the platform needed to change minds, have to take the lead. A change in culture among the most privileged is likely to trickle down to their less fortunate countrymen.
    Readers might wonder why I have yet to mention utilising the criminal justice system as a possible remedy, I.e criminalising consanguineous unions. It is a common fallacy to assume that laws generate cultural change, far more often, cultural change precedes law. An illustration of the fallacy can be seen in my homeland: Sweden. It is understandably a source of great pride for many Swedes that their nation was the first in the world to ban corporal child punishment in the home. What some Swedes go on to claim however, is that the low rate of corporal child punishment in Sweden today is simply a consequence of the legislative actions taken in the 60s. A look at the numbers however, reveals that corporal punishment of children was already decreasing before the law was passed, and kept decreasing after said law. It was not the case that millions of Swedes were striking their children daily, and only saw the error of their ways upon hearing that a majority of MPs in parliament deemed it improper.
    With that said, given the unavoidable externalities, I am not opposed to a future ban on the practice, but unaccompanied by any other actions, I am under no illusions about its potential efficacy. Even where it is outlawed today, agents of the government do not barge in to the homes of unsuspecting cousin-couples, dragging them away to prison kicking and screaming. The government simply refuses to recognise the marriage. Given the current state of Sudan and the character of the people who run it, I feel comfortable in asserting that a great many people across the nation could not care less about what the government does or does not recognise, thus making it an insufficient deterrent even if a law were to be passed tomorrow. If and when a law is to be introduced, the Republic of Tajikistan could serve as inspiration. The central Asian nation, which is 98% muslim, banned the practice in 2016.
    The price paid for marrying your cousin in Sudan must above all else be a social price. What is today socially approved and even encouraged has to become frowned upon, those who decide that their cousin and spouse will be one in the same will have to deviate from the norms of their society. For that reality to be realised, millions of conversations will have to take place. Everywhere from private homes, to elementary schools, universities and governmental institutions, to remote villages populated by the nations most disadvantaged citizens, people have to be made aware of the risks they are taking and engage in discourse with the people in their lives. Those that

    resist change, using religion, culture or tradition as argument, must be continuously challenged on their recklessness.
    I am well aware that this subject will cause discomfort for many Sudanese, most of whom, myself included, have relatives who are products of consanguineous unions. Many are obviously themselves children of parents who are cousins. That discomfort will prove to be an impediment to social change. Still, we must persist with our confrontation of the practice. The detrimental consequences are still reversible, but the longer the wait, the steeper the climb will eventually be.

    (Edited by بكرى ابوبكر on 01-15-2019, 02:11 AM)

































                  

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