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HibaBBC Three/Getty Images

People should know the risks of marrying their cousin

With my dad’s generation, and the generation before that, there were quite a few cousin marriages in the family.

Now, times have changed, and I don’t think as many people are leaning towards it.

I’m 18 years old and currently on a gap year, which I’ve spent making a documentary called Should I Marry My Cousin?

I wouldn’t say marriage is at the front of my brain, it’s just something that I’ve thought about since it’s quite important in Pakistani culture.

In Pakistan, it’s not weird to get married young. For British Pakistanis, though, it’s happening less. I think most people are focusing on their careers and degrees first.

If you’re not from this culture you might not understand why people marry their cousins.

Cousin marriage is definitely not a religious thing. It’s not required of you in Islam, it’s just left very open and very vague. Even for people in the Pakistani culture, it’s very dependent on your family and how you’re brought up.

HibaBBC Three

Back in my grandparents’ days they didn’t have cars or phones. They didn’t have Facebook or Instagram to meet people. They couldn’t go to the city and meet someone on a night out.

If you’re in a small village in Pakistan, it kind of makes sense that you’d go for your cousin, because there’s no one else really.

I think cousins marrying for love is very rare. It would more be a case of the parents arranging it and them just going along with it.

I’ve been brought up in England, in a completely different family dynamic. My parents haven’t ever made me feel like I need to please them with who I marry.

I would want my parents’ advice, and I would want them to be happy with my choice. But it’s not about them; it’s more about me. They wouldn’t have to spend the rest of their lives with the guy.

Hiba and her parentsBBC Three

When Pakistan separated from India, we adopted the caste system- where people are separated according to their social status and how much money they have.

There are quite a few different castes. It’s kind of like how the UK class system is split into upper, middle and lower class - but more rigid and with a lot more prejudice, I’d say.

One of the people I spoke to when I was filming told me that she married her cousin because her parents didn’t want her to be looked down upon as a result of her caste.

The reason is, some families fear their daughters will be looked down upon, or treated badly, by a family of a higher caste. So the daughters marry someone who is in the same caste as them. And because there might not be many people in each caste, they often end up marrying their cousin.

Similarly, there’ll be people in a higher caste who are richer and want the money to stay in the family, or they’ll want the family name to stay pure. So these people might marry their cousins because they’ll feel like their caste is superior to another.

Hiba chats to two sistersBBC Three

I don’t agree with that. I think we should be able to marry who we want without being looked down upon or feeling like you’re not as good as someone else.

My parents are from two different castes, and when they got married it was a bit contentious. It wasn’t really done back then.

But I’m glad that I haven’t been brought up around that. I can’t imagine having to think that I could only marry someone who is Pakistani but from a certain caste as well. It just seems like something from the past that’s quite out-dated.

Genetics is something we also have to talk about when we’re discussing cousin marriage.

I knew from GCSE biology that it wouldn’t be a good idea to marry within your gene pool. I knew it was a bit risky, but that was about it.

HibaBBC Three

Now, having made a documentary on it, I think it’s a very important thing to consider.

I learned that if you if you marry a first cousin, the risk of a child developing a birth defect goes from 2% to 5%. For me, it’s hard to talk about it in numbers, because you’re talking about a baby.

When we were filming, I went to visit one of my uncle's friends who married his cousin. It kind of shook me a bit.

He has two children with severe mental disabilities. His daughter was only a year older than me. I’m sat there worrying about first world problems basically, like which university I might go to, or if I want to start working instead. She doesn’t even have the chance to think about those sorts of thing.

We’ll never know if it’s because of the cousin marriage that these children have the disabilities they do.

My uncle's friend told me not to go for a cousin marriage if I wanted to minimise my risk of having children with similar diagnoses. But he also warned me that I wouldn't be absolutely safe from these conditions just because I didn't marry a cousin.

"We've come to the conclusion that it's the luck of the draw," he told me. "Whatever happens, happens because nature intended it."

Hiba at the doctors for genetic testingBBC Three

When there have been generations of people marrying their cousins, I do feel like it gets a bit dangerous. Nowadays, parents can get tested to check whether their genes carry mutations that could pass on disease to their children. I feel like it would be unfair if this testing wasn't done - or even considered - because that could impact the child’s entire life.

I’ve seen a lot of Asian people questioning why I would make a film about cousin marriage, saying that it is really embarrassing. But the thing is, it still happens.

It’s better that people have awareness, and if they are going through something like that, that they know the risks rather than hiding it away and keeping it a taboo subject. I’m glad that it’s being talked about now.

As told to Nick Arnold.

Watch BBC Three's Should I Marry My Cousin?