Documentary in which 18-year-old Hiba explores the controversial but legal custom of first-cousin marriage, which has taken place in her own family for generations.
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For my generation, dating is all digital,
but not everyone wants to swipe right and date strangers.
In my culture, many prefer to find their partner offline,
and in the family...
with their cousins.
What should I do?
Cousin marriage divides a nation, and my family.
My uncle is in favour.
You would have a better chance with the cousin marriage
than marrying outside.
Dad is on the fence.
In principle, I'm not against cousin marriages.
I'm not pro, but I'm not against.
And Mum is dead opposed.
I was married to my first cousin.
It broke down, and I was able to get out of quite a nasty situation.
In Pakistan, I'll meet my cousins.
I'm not sure whether something like that could even work for me, maybe.
But here, loads say, "No way."
-It's just wrong.
-Yeah, it's wrong.
Possible incest, I don't know.
I thought it was illegal in England.
You are going to be, technically, inbred.
As I look at my options,
the risk of this Pakistani tradition starts to really scare me.
VOICEOVER: My name is Hiba, I'm 18, and I'm from Bradford.
As a young British Pakistani, I've started to think about marriage.
I don't think I have a type, really.
I'm looking for a guy who's trustworthy, open-minded,
those kind of things.
As well as obviously being good-looking,
and tall and dark and whatever, but I wouldn't mind if he's not,
like, America's Next Top Model, or anything.
I'd always want Hiba to marry somebody who has a deep
respect for his religion, knowledge, who has deep respect for her.
I think somebody like me.
But at the end of the day, it's going to be my daughter's choice.
Around me, up to 70% of all British Pakistanis marry their cousins...
..including my own grandparents.
My mummy and his mummy is sisters.
They're like each other.
They've been married for 54 years.
Would I be crazy not to follow them,
or should I turn my back on tradition?
First up, I really need to chat to some young, loved-up cousins.
Hello, is this Sonia?
I just wanted to speak to you about possibly coming on a
documentary that I'm doing about cousin marriages for BBC Three.
I just wanted to ask if you'd be willing to participate.
Could you possibly tell me why you don't want to?
Why? What's the fallout?
They straight up said no.
Do you know anybody else who might want to take part?
Cos we're struggling to find people.
You'll just have to keep trying.
It's really frustrating that no-one will come on camera
and talk to me about the issue...
but I'm guessing they kind of feel like they might...
..feel a bit attacked.
Cos most of us are Muslim,
so we always see a lot on the media that's really negative about us,
so I feel like...
..anyone brown is just scared of a camera now,
because you just think that your words are going to be twisted.
No-one my age will talk to me, but luckily
my dad's brother in Newcastle will.
-As-Salaam-Alaikum How are you? I'm OK.
-How are you?
-All right, thank you.
Uncle Younis is married to his cousin,
and four out of five of his children married their cousins too.
In Asian marriages, you're not marrying a person,
you're marrying a family as well.
And I think it's easier when they come from the same core values.
So, say I had the choice between a cousin or someone I had met at, say,
-uni, or something...
Which one do you think would be better for me?
I would go for the family one.
I mean, I've been married 44 years, coming up to 45,
and I can hand on heart say it's been a beautiful journey.
My uncle makes it sound so good.
I'm beginning to see how cousin marriages might work.
It's quite nice to just see that he's, kind of,
unapologetically for cousin marriages,
and he doesn't really care that it's something that might be looked down
upon, or something that might be seen negatively.
And if the stats are anything to go by
cousin marriage seems a pretty good option.
42% of all marriages end in divorce,
but amongst first cousins,
it's just 20%.
That's really encouraging,
but just how successful have cousin marriages been in my own family?
Dad's always been desperate for me to learn more about my heritage.
Today is his lucky day.
Right, Hiba, this is your family tree.
We start off with an ancestor,
So, if we highlight...
That's a cousin marriage.
That's a cousin marriage.
This was a cousin marriage.
By the time we get to Mum's family, it gets even more complicated.
All three of them were married to first cousins.
All of these guys were married to first cousins.
Why don't we just scribble the whole board red?
This is the young people in your generation,
and these would be the...
single guys in your age bracket.
They're the only eligible kind of people in our entire family.
The only cousins my age live in Pakistan,
so to find out how I really feel
about all this, I've got to meet them.
I don't really know what to expect, cos I've never met
my cousins from Pakistan before.
I feel like there might be a thing of we won't have anything to talk
about, because, I don't know,
I'm guessing we have quite different lifestyles,
or maybe I'm just assuming that, but I'm not sure.
I think it'll be interesting to see whether...
..or even if, something like that could even work for me, maybe.
VOICEOVER: It's going to be nerve-racking.
-Do you recognise any of it?
-Of course you don't, no.
This is only my second visit to Pakistan.
Last time I was here, I was just four years old.
-I swear they have that shop in Bradford.
We're in Mirpur, the north-east corner of Pakistan,
where 70% of all Pakistani people in Britain come from -
including both sides of my family.
That's our land over there.
This is my uncle's house.
This is where your grandfather was born, your Uncle Younis was born,
and Uncle Mahmood was born.
VOICEOVER: I've mostly been thinking about love,
but I'm starting to see some other bonuses to cousin marriage -
The inheritance stays in the family.
My dad's cousin Rafiq still lives here in the family village.
At last, cousins my age.
Saba, who's divorced, is 21.
Safra is 12.
My chance to see what's in it for the girls.
If you were to consider getting married soon,
cos you guys are of that age where you start thinking about it,
would you prefer marrying a cousin
over someone from outside of the family?
In some ways, yeah. It depends.
Sometimes, you have to listen to your parents as well,
what they want, to keep them happy as well.
Do you think that's important, keeping your parents happy?
Sometimes, yeah, cos they've done a lot for you when you was young,
and stuff. So, if you don't listen to your parents, it's kind of bad,
cos then they think that you don't love them and stuff like that.
In family, like, if something goes wrong in the marriage,
you can at least ask 'em, cos they're, like, family,
and they, like, look after you properly and stuff.
But as for me, like, I got married outside, and it's...
I don't know. It was just, like, an outside, and it was really hard.
So, was that in Pakistan, or was it in England?
-It was in England.
-And you married somebody from outside the family,
-and you found that harder?
-It was really hard, yeah.
-Why did you find it hard?
-Because the guy that I married, he had, like...
He wasn't bothered, like, never spent time or anything,
always be with his family and stuff, like,
whatever they'd tell him to do, he'd do it.
-Like, if they... Like, basically, I was like a servant for them.
So they take, like, girls from Pakistan to England to, like, be the servant.
So, if you were to marry again,
-would you prefer to marry inside the family?
-Inside the family.
It's so much better.
I never even thought that marrying a cousin might protect women...
..but in our culture, girls move in with their husband's family,
so it makes sense.
You already know your in-laws, and they already know you.
Let me show you your grandfather's grave.
That's Mohamed Shafi Whalid Mohamed Kushir.
This is the very top of that family tree - Chanda.
Yeah? We called him Baba Chanda.
It's a bit of an honour and a privilege, actually, to show my daughter,
um...you know, the...
..one of our great ancestors.
VOICEOVER: In Britain, it's all about you.
Here, it's not like that.
Whatever I decide will impact on my entire family.
What I would like... You, and your brothers, and me, and everybody
is to maintain this connection...
..to this little piece of land on planet Earth.
These were the people who you came from.
The family unit means everything to Pakistani people.
Family defines who you are...
..and your standing in the community.
So, today was my first full day in Pakistan,
and I went to my dad's family's village.
It's very small, and if you marry someone from that village,
they're bound to be related to you somehow.
It showed why people did it,
but it doesn't really show why people might do it now, I think.
The next day, I notice a wedding taking place at the hotel we're staying at...
and not just any celebration.
It's a double wedding.
The brides are sisters.
They've agreed to speak to me on their big day,
but their father's asked us to film them from the side
to preserve their modesty.
So, could you guys tell me who you're going to marry today?
So, is there anything in particular that you liked about your cousin
that made you want to marry him?
VOICEOVER: Most marriages in Pakistan are arranged by the parents.
Some are forced but, increasingly, the bride and groom are given a say.
So, if we go for the coconut gulab jamun there, and these ones here?
The number of weddings where individuals choose their partner,
we call them "love marriages", is less than...
Who I marry is totally up to me,
but that doesn't make the decision any easier.
Today, I'm finally meeting my cousins.
So, these are my cousin's children.
-You know, your generation of young people who we'll be meeting.
I haven't met them before either, so it should be interesting.
VOICEOVER: I'm not good at all in family gatherings.
Right now, I'm feeling nervous.
On the sofa are my two male cousins.
There are two other cousins in the room -
Naheed, who's 21, and Sundas, who is 17.
No-one knows quite what to do.
It's really awkward.
So, us cousins head out.
Do you guys think about marriage at all -
specifically, about cousin marriages?
There are over 350 different castes, or social classes,
in Pakistani society, so the pool
of potential partners can be small,
especially if you don't live in a big city.
Despite this, I sense some hesitancy to cousin marriage from the girls.
Do you guys agree with that?
Would you say that you would have a cousin marriage?
So, would you prefer
to then get a marriage outside of the family, because of that?
VOICEOVER: I couldn't really tell what they were like,
but they seem nice enough.
I think it was awkward for all of us, really.
Cos when you... Especially when
you're family and you haven't met each other before,
it's kind of like... "What do I say? What do I do?"
There's loads to weigh up.
Being here has made me see the benefits of marrying your cousin,
like security and stability.
But I can't get what Sundas said out of my head.
The genetic risks sound incredibly scary.
Before I decide anything,
I need to know exactly what the dangers are.
I don't think it's a good thing,
because of the genetic issues it can cause for children.
I think people who are thinking
about marrying their cousins
should do their research, and
be really open to the fact
that they could have children
with genetic illnesses.
It's not ideal, is it, keeping
everything within the one gene pool?
Leads to loads of different complications, I guess.
If they're going to be having
offspring and stuff,
then that's forcing them to
have genetic deformities, really.
Is this all true? Does this really happen?
I'm back in Newcastle with Uncle Younis
to see what the possible risks of marrying in the family are.
I'm here to help you to make that decision...
..as an elder.
I'm going to take you to a friend of mine who has married a first cousin.
It'll give you a better idea
of the worst-case scenarios that we're talking about.
Ifti Khan and his wife Mehnaz have three children...
..two of whom are severely autistic.
This is Marianna Fatima, but we call her Fatima.
She is going to be... She's 19, she's going to be 20 in June.
Those two outdoor clogs have to be there facing that direction.
If we change direction, Fatima will come here,
notice it and change the direction again,
so things have to be in their place.
She's non-verbal. She doesn't have any communication system.
She's at the severe end of the autistic spectrum.
This is Rohan and he's 12 years old.
Is it clear? Is it clear?
He's very particular about things that he likes and dislikes.
I want the sky all blue.
As he said, he wants the sky all to be blue.
We've got to be patient, don't we?
Yeah? Can you get one of the tissues?
Will you just bring the tissue box inside?
Oh, you want to do it yourself? OK.
-It will get clear.
-I promise it will get clear.
The kids give us...
give us a lot of challenging moments, a lot of hard work,
but a lot of joy as well.
When you got married, did you think about the genetics issue at all?
Well, it was in the back of my mind,
but then I looked around and I thought,
we looked around and we thought that we've got other relatives
who married cousins and they don't have issues.
When you think you get on with somebody, and you think you're
compatible and you think you're going to have a good life together,
it's the last thing that comes to your mind.
And then we obviously started stressing about it, you know,
when Fatima was diagnosed,
and you're getting to this issue of maybe blaming yourself, that,
you know, we got into a cousin marriage,
and maybe that's the reason why
our kids have these learning difficulties and disabilities.
When we began to look around, we found out that there's a lot of people
who aren't related, um...
whose children have autism.
I think the scientific world is still
at the point of speculating, consistently.
They get a little bit of information,
they expand on that information and create a theory out of it.
But even if it is just a theory, do you still think it's worth the risk?
If you think you want to minimise your risks...
don't go for a cousin marriage.
But don't allow yourself to believe that you are absolutely safe from
these conditions just because you're not in a cousin marriage.
We've done a lot of, you know, soul-searching over it,
both me and Mehnaz, done a lot of soul-searching,
but we've come to the conclusion
that it's luck of the draw, I think.
You know, whatever happens,
it happens because nature intends it to happen.
Maybe God choose us to put, uh, put this situation.
It's like a test, could be test for us.
It was a bit...
It was a bit hard to be in that room and see that, um...
..they have to live like that.
I felt kind of grateful that I'm...
..in a family where that doesn't really affect me...
..because it'd just be hard to see
a child that you love with a condition like that, because...
You can't really put that into words,
how you'd feel if that was your child, or even, like...
..a child in your family.
I just can't help feeling that genetics is playing a part.
Allah or God's will is something I've heard before
to explain away difficult times.
But does our religion encourage cousins to get married?
To find out, I'm meeting Imam Mohammed Saeed.
So what does the Quran say about cousin marriages?
The Quran didn't mention...
..marriage with cousins...
..but if a thing is not mentioned in Quran, it means it is allowed.
Not prohibited, not forbidden.
But it depends on the choice of your children, you are not allowed to...
..pressurise them to get married inside the family.
So this is a non-Islamic thing.
So would you say that, in terms of cousin marriages,
it's more of a cultural thing than a religious thing?
You know what it is? I think it has become a cultural action,
I'm feeling very happy you started this topic.
Yeah. Do you think it needs to be talked about more?
Yeah. It's very important for our youngsters.
My family, and now my religion, are leaving it up to me.
But before I make this big decision,
I need to get to the bottom of the genetic issue.
I'm just looking at the Born in Bradford Project
and I'm just looking at what it's about.
Born in Bradford is a long-term study of 13,500 children born in the city
between 2007 and 2010, whose health is being tracked.
Pakistanis were responsible for 3% of all births and they accounted for
30% of British-born children with genetic illness.
Som all the children born in general, we're 3%,
and then, all the disabled children born, we're 30%.
This shouldn't really be happening.
That many children shouldn't be disabled, if it can be helped.
I'm not going to lie.
The genetic talk scares me.
In my family, there's a history of acute deafness and thalassemia,
a potentially fatal blood disorder.
I now wonder if these are caused by genes passed down in our family
through cousin marriage.
If so, am I a carrier?
To get answers,
I've made an appointment at the International Gene Clinic
with Dr Anand Saggar.
So, tell me, how can I help you today?
Well, I was hoping to find out more about genetics in general
and what I could possibly be carrying,
and if it could affect me if I was to get into
a cousin marriage, or something like that.
If you're first cousins, you share 12.5% of your genes in common,
so therefore it's more likely, within that 12.5%,
you might carry the same deleterious gene.
Have you ever had a test to see if you are a carrier?
-Do you understand what a carrier means?
Everybody's got two copies of their genes,
and if one is broken then it recedes and hides behind the normal copy,
and that's why we call it recessive.
But if you do meet someone who's got the same abnormal gene
in exactly the same place,
then the child might have two abnormal copies
and, therefore, no backup.
So if this couple were cousins,
it'd be more likely that they'd have those genes
that are really similar?
Correct, but every pregnancy's got its risks,
and that risk is approximately 2.5% to 3%.
It's just that if you marry a cousin,
we double that baseline risk to about 5%.
To me, I see that as like, 100% increase in my mind,
rather than seeing it as, "Oh, it's just 2% or 5%."
there's nothing wrong with marrying a cousin,
but it's about the risks you take and the sharing of the genes.
If you do things like checking you're not a carrier for
thalassemia, then you're trying to minimise these risks.
So that's what I'm going to do.
-Are you ready for this?
-Now might be a good time to mention, I hate blood tests.
So, I'm just going to put this around your arm here,
which is a bit tight.
My blood will be screened for 300 different genetic diseases.
Open up your hand.
I definitely think that if I get the results back and there's anything
that comes up about me having any recessive genes,
it will kind of...
..put things into perspective a bit more, and, like,
it will probably make me think twice about who I marry,
because you're not just talking about marrying your cousin any more,
you're talking about another person that'll be brought into this.
It's unfair that that child might have a genetic defect
because of that marriage.
We aren't the only community at risk of passing on genetic diseases.
Ashkenazi Jews don't marry their cousins,
but they tend to marry within their religion,
creating a closed gene pool, much like ours.
But the number of Ashkenazi kids born with genetic defects
has dropped by ...
over the last 20 years.
I want to find out how.
I've come to a monthly drop-in session for people who want to be tested...
..and all they have to do is spit.
You can go do it over there, you don't need to do it here.
Igor, who's getting married next year,
will be tested for the nine most common genetic disorders amongst
Is that enough?
-A bit more.
-Little bit more?
-I'm sorry, yeah.
-All right, no problem.
Perfect, and then pop it in there.
For Hayley, who's volunteering today,
it's a service close to her heart.
My cousin actually has one of the genetic conditions on the list that
they're testing for today.
She has a lot of issues and it's a very hard life for her,
it's very hard for her parents to see her going through that.
You know, if we can eradicate these conditions,
then we should do everything in our power to do so,
so then no-one has to suffer.
Programmes like these save the NHS millions of pounds.
Treating someone with thalassemia costs £20,000 per year,
and for someone with severe learning disabilities, it's 50,000.
It's definitely something I think my own Pakistani community
could start doing.
Just last month, a study in the London Borough of Redbridge
looking into the causes of child deaths
found that one in every five died because their parents were cousins.
Of those, half were Pakistani.
Three weeks later, my genetic results arrive.
-Hi, it's Dr Saggar here.
-You've been waiting for these results.
-So, it's excellent news, Hiba.
You do not carry any of the mutations that we tested for.
And we tested 314 diseases.
-And I'm all clear?
-You're all clear.
It's fantastic news.
VOICEOVER: It's a massive relief.
Genetically, there's nothing stopping me from marrying a cousin.
But before I make up my mind,
there's one thing I've been meaning to ask Mum -
why did her cousin marriage fail?
I was married to my first cousin for about 18, 20 months.
And it broke down, we were just not compatible, and...
The whole support structure thing didn't happen for me, in terms of...
OK, you know, you're related, and your mother-in-law's related to you, and stuff like that.
So, you know,
everyone who has spoken to me who's for cousin marriages
has said, "Oh, it keeps families together,"
and "You'll have the same values if you marry your cousin,"
but that kind of just tells me otherwise...
because what I do know is that...
..your dad didn't speak to your auntie until she basically died,
because of your marriage breaking down,
so that kind of tore that family relation apart.
There's two sides to that coin.
That support structure can work really well,
or it can keep you in a situation that you don't want to be in,
because you're being pressurised to hold that family...
hold the family ties together.
I was very lucky, in that my parents supported me fully...
..and I was able to get out of quite a nasty situation.
I'm so proud of my mum for managing to get out of that marriage
and going through the divorce,
because, in the Pakistani community,
it's not really a good thing to get divorced.
It's looked down upon, especially for a woman.
I'm especially proud of my grandparents, as well,
for allowing her to do that, because,
usually, people from their generation
wouldn't allow something like that to happen,
especially if it was in a cousin marriage
that could break down a family.
Should I go with my uncle, who's pro?
Dad, who's on the fence?
I think ,after meeting all the people I've met and going all the
places I've gone, I've decided that I won't be marrying a cousin.
It's just not something that I'd be comfortable with.
Like, if I weigh up the advantages and the disadvantages...
..the advantages don't hold a lot of weight for me, especially because...
..the person who's closest to me who I know who's been in a cousin
marriage is my mum. That didn't work out for her.
But I do think that if someone does want to marry their cousin,
I wouldn't be against it.
I'd say just get tested, so that you know the risks,
and if you're happy with the risks, then go ahead with it.
Just as long as you're informed,
and you can make a well-informed decision.
MUSIC: Human by Rag'n'Bone Man
In this provocative and personal documentary, 18-year-old Bradford-born Hiba explores the controversial but legal custom of first-cousin marriage. It's a practice which has gone on within her own family for generations, and as she reaches adulthood, she faces a massive dilemma - deciding whether to follow her culture and marry a cousin or go her own independent way.
Exploring the health impacts that first-cousin marriage can have and the arguments for and against, Hiba finds out if it is possible to fancy and desire such a close relative before testing if this something she could do herself.
In Britain, where cousin marriage has been legal for over 400 years, first-cousin marriage is often considered taboo. However, in one community - the British Pakistanis - 55 per cent of young people marry their first cousin. And in Bradford, where Hiba comes from, that figure is 70 per cent.
Although she's only 18, Hiba is already talking to her family about marriage. For them, first-cousin marriage is the norm, and some members of the family are especially keen for her to continue the tradition. Her uncle Younis is in favour - four out of five of his own children are in cousin marriages. Her dad Maroof is on the fence and her mum Nuzhat is very much against it, but both have said they will support Hiba in whatever decision she makes.
At the moment Hiba is single, and because all her first cousins have married each other, her only hope of a family match would be with a second or third cousin from Pakistan. So, should Hiba marry a cousin? In this informative, authentic and life-changing film, Hiba is about to find out.