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MPs have called for a public debate about the high numbers of birth defects among children from marriages between first cousins in Britain's Asian communities.

Phil Woolas said that while health workers were well aware of the heightened risk of genetic problems, cultural sensitivities made the issue difficult to raise.

The Government minister, who represents ethnically-diverse Oldham East and Saddleworth, said: "Part of the risk, I am told by the health service, is first-cousin marriages. If you are supportive of the Asian community then you have a duty to raise this issue."

His call was supported by fellow Labour MP Ann Cryer who first raised the issue more than two years ago after research showed British Pakistanis were 13 times more likely to have children with recessive disorders than the general population.

She blamed a "medieval culture" of keeping wealth in the family and said some couples ignored warnings not to have more children despite the risks......article conts (-)

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