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HSBC’s logo is displayed inside an office tower in Hong Kong February 27, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip
By Steve Slater and Matt Scuffham
LONDON | Mon Jul 30, 2012 12:03pm EDT
(Reuters) – Revelations of lax anti-money laundering controls at HSBC are “shameful and embarrassing” for Europe’s biggest bank, its boss said on Monday, and it may have to pay out well over $2 billion for the scandal and in compensation for UK mis-selling.
HSBC set aside $700 million to cover fines and other costs after a U.S. Senate report criticized it this month for letting clients shift funds from dangerous and secretive countries, notably Mexico.
Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver told reporters the ultimate cost could be “significantly higher”.
“What happened in Mexico and the U.S. is shameful, it’s embarrassing, it’s very painful for all of us in the firm,” he said on a conference call. “We need to execute on the compliance changes and then prove ourselves worthy and rebuild this over a number of years. There are no quick and easy fixes.”
The Senate report criticized a “pervasively polluted” culture at the bank and said HSBC’s Mexican operations had moved $7 billion into its U.S. operations between 2007 and 2008.
The HSBC Building in Shanghai, the headquarters of the Shanghai branch of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation from 1923 to 1955
“The firm clearly lost its way in this regard and it’s right that we apologize,” said Gulliver. “Colleagues internally have been aware that this is the backdrop of why we had to change the firm.”
The provision ate into first-half underlying profits, which fell 3 percent from a year earlier to $10.6 billion, excluding gains from assets sales and losses on the value of its own debt.
HSBC, which was formed in 1865 and operates in 84 countries, said a new streamlined and centralized structure set up by Gulliver has simplified the bank and made it easier to monitor and enforce standards and compliance.
But it also set aside another $1 billion to compensate British customers for mis-selling them loan insurance, and $237 million to cover payouts to small UK businesses wrongly sold complex interest rate hedging products.
HSBC is also one of more than a dozen banks under scrutiny in a global interest rate-rigging scandal that has rocked the sector and further damaged the reputation of bankers following criticism of their culture and standards.
“It’s very unfortunate and deeply concerning that even the banks considered more secure such as HSBC are so seriously at risk,” said a top 30 investor in HSBC.
“And the news is still coming out – we have yet to see the impact, if any, of the Libor investigation and HSBC’s role in that. It’s hard to see how much more bad news the markets can take,” said the investor, who asked not to be named.
The bank said economic headwinds would persist and it expected the euro zone economy to contract in 2012, while the United States would achieve sub-par growth this year and next. China’s economy should have a “soft landing” and grow 8 percent or more this year, it said.
U.S. and British authorities have fined fellow UK-based bank Barclays $453 million for manipulating Libor, a benchmark interest rate based on how much banks charge to lend to each other. More banks are expected to be drawn into the investigation into banks submitting false rates from which Libor is calculated daily.
Royal Bank of Scotland’s CEO said it is one of the banks in the investigation, and Britain set out the terms on Monday for a reform of Libor, saying urgent change was required.
Thomson Reuters Corp is the British Bankers’ Association’s official agent for the daily calculation and publishing of Libor.
8 Canada Square, the world headquarters of HSBC in Canary Wharf, London.
Gulliver said that as a contributor to Libor and its euro zone equivalent Euribor, HSBC was cooperating with regulators, but it was too early to say what the outcome would be or to estimate the potential cost for the bank. No-one at HSBC had been fired or suspended over any Libor issues, he said.
HSBC is in talks to settle the investigation into its U.S. anti-money laundering compliance with the U.S. Department of Justice and other regulators. “It may take several more months to come to fruition,” Gulliver said.
The bank said it could clawback some past bonuses from staff involved in the problem, but declined to comment if that could include former Chief Executive Michael Geoghegan.
Gulliver is mid-way through a deep overhaul to cut costs, sell or shrink unprofitable businesses, and to direct investment to faster growing Asian markets.
It has cut 27,000 jobs since the start of 2011 and sold or closed 26 business in that time, including sales of its U.S. credit card businesses and half its U.S. branches.
HSBC has been running down its U.S. loan book for years, but said it was unlikely to be able to drain out surplus capital from its U.S. operations until “well into the future”.
Gulliver said he was aware of the investigation into its U.S. compliance problems in 2010 before he took over, and that shaped some of his restructuring. This also includes centralizing control functions over a bank that was unwieldy.
HSBC said it had increased its spending on compliance to more than $400 million last year, more than double its $200 million in 2010.
Behind the problems the bank had shown “a pretty good set of numbers” and quick execution on his strategy, said Gulliver.
The bank reported a statutory pretax profit of $12.7 billion for the six months to the end of June, up 11 percent on the year and above an average analyst forecast of $12.5 billion, according to a poll by the company.
Its investment bank’s profit rose 5 percent on the year to $5 billion, faring better than rivals in a tough market where activity has been hit by the euro zone crisis.
Costs represented 57.5 percent of income, similar to the past year and above Gulliver’s 52 percent target.
(Additional reporting by Sarah White and Raji Menon; Editing by David Stamp)
(Reuters) – The Syrian military stepped up its campaign to drive rebel fighters out of Aleppo on Monday, firing artillery and mortars while a fighter jet flew over a district the army said it had retaken the day before.
However, opposition activists denied government forces had entered the Salaheddine district, which lies in the southwest of the country’s biggest city and straddles the most obvious route for Syrian troop reinforcements coming from the south.
Hospitals and makeshift clinics in rebel-held eastern neighborhoods were filling up with casualties from a week of fighting in Aleppo, a commercial hub that had previously stayed out of a 16-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
“Some days we get around 30, 40 people, not including the bodies,” said a young medic in one clinic. “A few days ago we got 30 injured and maybe 20 corpses, but half of those bodies were ripped to pieces. We can’t figure out who they are.”
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 people, including 30 civilians, were killed in Syria on Monday. Two rebel fighters died in Salaheddine.
Outgunned rebel fighters, patrolling in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black “independence” flags, said they were holding out in Salaheddine despite a battering by the army’s heavy weapons and helicopter gunships.
“We always knew the regime’s grave would be Aleppo,” said Mohammed, a young fighter, fingering the bullets in his tattered brown ammunition vest. “Damascus is the capital, but here we have a fourth of the country’s population and the entire force of its economy. Bashar’s forces will be buried here.”
An unidentified Syrian army officer said on state television late on Sunday that troops had pushed “those mercenary gunmen” completely out of Salaheddine, adding: “In a few days safety and security will return to the city of Aleppo.”
The army’s assault on Salaheddine echoed its tactics in Damascus earlier this month when it used its overwhelming firepower to mop up rebel fighters district by district.
Assad’s forces are determined not to let go of Aleppo, where defeat would be a serious strategic and psychological blow.
Military experts believe the rebels are too lightly armed and poorly commanded to overcome the army, whose artillery pounds the city at will and whose gunships control the skies.
Reuters journalists in Aleppo have been unable to approach Salaheddine to verify who controls it.
“Yesterday they were shelling the area at a rate of two shells a minute. We couldn’t move at all,” said a man calling himself a spokesman for the “Aleppo Revolution” group. “It’s not true at all that the regime’s forces are in Salaheddine.”
Warfare has stilled the usual commercial bustle in this city of 2.5 million. Vegetable markets are open but few people are buying. Instead, crowds of sweating men and women wait nearly three hours to buy limited amounts of heavily subsidized bread.
In a city where loyalties have been divided, with sections of the population in favor of the Assad government, some seemed wary of speaking out in the presence of the fighters, many of whom have been drafted in from surrounding areas.
Asked about his allegiances, one man waiting at a police station that had been badly damaged by shellfire said: “We are not with anyone. We are on the side of truth.”
Asked whose side that was, he replied: “Only God.”
Others stopped members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and asked them to do something about the supply of bread and petrol.
Rebel fighters remain in control of swathes of the city, moving around those areas armed with assault rifles and dressed in items of camouflage clothing in an edgy show of confidence.
They were emboldened to strike at Aleppo and Damascus after a July 18 explosion that killed four of Assad’s top security officials in a damaging blow at the president’s inner circle.
The army has regained its grip on the capital and is now intent on denying Aleppo to FSA rebels, some of whose roadblocks fly the black and white banners of Islamist militants.
BIG POWERS DIVIDED
With big powers divided, the outside world has been unable to restrain Syria’s slide into civil war.
France said it would ask for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council to try and break the diplomatic deadlock on Syria, but gave no indication that Russia and China would end their longstanding policy of blocking measures against Assad.
In London, Syria’s most senior diplomat resigned because he could no longer represent a government that committed such “violent and oppressive acts” against its own people, the Foreign Office said. Charge d’affaires Khaled al-Ayoubi joins a growing number of senior Syrian officials who have defected.
The deputy police chief of Syria’s western Latakia city also defected and fled to Turkey overnight with 11 other Syrian officers, a Turkish official said. Another 600 Syrians had arrived in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey to around 43,500, he added.
Amid growing concern about security on its southern frontier, Turkey sent a convoy of troops, missile batteries and armored vehicles to the border with Syria on Monday.
There has however been no indication that Turkish forces will cross the border, and the troop movements may just be precautionary in the face of spiraling violence in Syria.
The United Nations humanitarian chief said 200,000 people had fled Aleppo, only 50 km (30 miles) from the Turkish border, in two days. It was not clear how this estimate had been reached given the difficulties of assessing relief needs in war zones.
Assad’s ruling system is dominated by his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, while his opponents are mostly from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority.
The sectarian element in the conflict has raised fears that it could inflame Sunni-Shi’ite tensions elsewhere, particularly in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
This article is about the variable social/legal/religious/cultural infraction of sexual relations with close kin. For the biological act of reproducing with close kin, see inbreeding. For the descriptive term for blood-related kin, seeconsanguinity.
Incest is sexual intercourse between family members and close relatives. The term may apply to sexual activities between: individuals of close “blood relationship”; members of the same household; step relatives related by adoptionor marriage; and members of the same clan or lineage. The incest taboo is and has been one of the most common of all cultural taboos, both in current nations and many past societies. Most modern societies have laws regarding incest or social restrictions on closely consanguineous marriages.
In some societies, such as those of Ancient Egypt and others, brother–sister, father–daughter, and mother–son, cousin-cousin, uncle-niece, aunt-nephew, and other permutations of relations were practiced among royalty as a means of perpetuating the royal lineage. In addition, the Balinese and some Inuit tribes have altogether different beliefs about what constitutes illegal and immoral incest. However, parent-child and sibling-sibling unions are almost universally forbidden.
In countries where it is illegal, consensual adult incest is seen by some as a victimless crime. However, children born of close incestous unions have greatly increased risk of death and disability at least in part due to genetic diseases caused by the inbreeding. Studies with clearly defined terms, control groups, large sample sizes, non-clinical populations, and specific measures of consequences, and controlled for age and socioeconomic group, indicate that childhood incest experiences in lower-class families where the perpetrator has been prosecuted are associated with harmful effects; that occurrence of incest may predispose the individual to certain kinds of problems; that child victims of various reported sex crimes, in addition to incest, in lower-class families are likely to experience harmful effects; and that sibling sexual experiences in middle-class families have little influence on adult sexual functioning.
The English word incest is derived from the Latin incestus, which has a general meaning of “impure, unchaste”. It was introduced into Middle English, both in the generic Latin sense, and in the narrow modern sense. The generic Latin sense preserved throughout the Middle English period The derived adjective incestuous appears in the 16th century. Prior to the introduction of the Latin term, incest was known in Old English as sibbleger (from sibb ‘kinship’ +leger ‘to lie’) or mǣġhǣmed (from mǣġ ‘kin, parent’ + hǣmed ‘sexual intercourse’) but in time, both words fell out of use.
In ancient China, first cousins with the same surnames (i.e., those born to the father’s brothers) were not permitted to marry, while those with different surnames (i.e., maternal cousins and paternal cousins born to the father’s sisters) were.
According to the Biblical Book of Genesis, the Patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah were half-siblings, both being children of Terah (Ge 20:12).
The fable of Oedipus, with a theme of inadvertent incest between a mother and son, ends in disaster and shows ancient taboos against incest as Oedipus is punished for incestuous actions by blinding himself. In the “sequel” to Oedipus, Antigone, his four children are also punished for their parents having been incestuous.
Incest appears in the commonly accepted version of the birth of Adonis, when his mother, Myrrha has sex with her father Cinyras during a festival, disguised as a prostitute
Incest is mentioned and condemned in Virgil’s Aeneid Book VI: hic thalamum invasit natae vetitosque hymenaeos; “This one invaded a daughter’s room and a forbidden sex act”.
It is generally accepted that sibling marriages were widespread among all classes in Egypt during the Graeco-Roman period. Numerous papyri and the Roman census declarations attest to many husbands and wives being brother and sister. The most well known of these relationships were in the royal family, the Ptolemies; The famous Cleopatra VII was married to her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII. Her mother and father, Cleopatra V and Ptolemy XII, had also been brother and sister.
In Ancient Greece, Spartan King Leonidas I, hero of the legendary Battle of Thermopylae, was married to his niece Gorgo, daughter of his half-brother Cleomenes I. Greek law allowed marriage between a brother and sister if they had different mothers. For example, some accounts say that Elpinice was for a time married to her half-brother Cimon.
Incestuous unions were frowned upon and considered as nefas (against the laws of gods and man) in ancient Rome. In AD 295 incest was explicitly forbidden by an imperial edict, which divided the concept of incestus into two categories of unequal gravity: the incestus iuris gentium, which was applied to both Romans and non-Romans in the Empire, and the incestus iuris civilis, which concerned only Roman citizens. Therefore, for example, an Egyptian could marry an aunt, but a Roman could not. Despite the act of incest being unacceptable within the Roman Empire, Roman Emperor Caligula is rumored to have had sexual relationships with all three of his sisters (Julia Livilla, Drusilla, and Agrippina the Younger). Emperor Claudius, after executing his previous wife, married his brother’s daughter Agrippina the Younger, and changed the law to allow an otherwise illegal union. The law prohibiting marrying a sister’s daughter remained. The taboo against incest in Ancient Rome is demonstrated by the fact that politicians would use charges of incest (often false charges) as insults and means of political disenfranchisement.
In Norse mythology there are themes of brother-sister marriage, a prominent example being between Njörðr and his unnamed sister (perhaps Nerthus), parents of Freyja andFreyr. Loki in turn also accuses Freyja and Freyr of having a sexual relationship.
Many European monarchs were related due to political marriages, sometimes resulting in distant cousins (and even first cousins) being married. This was especially true in the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Savoy and Bourbon royal houses. Incestuous marriages were also seen in the royal houses of ancient Japan and Korea. Half-sibling marriages were found in ancient Japan such as the marriage of Emperor Bidatsu and his half-sister Empress Suiko. Japanese Prince Kinashi no Karu had sexual relationships with his full sister Princess Karu no Ōiratsume, although the action was regarded as foolish. In order to prevent the influence of the other families, a half-sister of Korean GoryeoDynasty monarch Gwangjong became his wife in the 10th century. Brother-sister marriages were common during some Roman periods as some census records have shown.
Prevalence and statistics
Incest between adults and those under the age of consent is considered a form of child sexual abuse that has been shown to be one of the most extreme forms of childhood abuse, often resulting in serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest. Prevalence is difficult to generalize, but research has estimated 10–15% of the general population as having at least one such sexual contact, with less than 2% involving intercourse or attempted intercourse. Among women, research has yielded estimates as high as 20%.
Father-daughter incest was for many years the most commonly reported and studied form of incest. More recently, studies have suggested that sibling incest, particularly older brothers having sexual relations with younger siblings, is the most common form of incest, with some studies finding sibling incest occurring more frequently than other forms of incest. Some studies suggest that adolescent perpetrators of sibling abuse choose younger victims, abuse victims over a lengthier period, use violence more frequently and severely than adult perpetrators, and that sibling abuse has a higher rate of penetrative acts than father or stepfather incest, with father and older brother incest resulting in greater reported distress than stepfather incest.
Between adults and children
Incest between an adult and a child is usually considered a form of child sexual abuse and for many years has been the most reported form of incest. Father–daughter and stepfather–stepdaughter incest is the most commonly reported form of adult-child incest, with most of the remaining involving a mother or stepmother. Father–son incest is reported less often, although it is not known whether the prevalence is less because it is under-reported by a greater margin. Prevalence of incest between parents and their children is difficult to assess due to secrecy and privacy; some estimate that 20 million Americans were, as children, subjected to incest by a parent.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime a large proportion of rape committed in the United States is perpetrated by a family member:
Research indicates that 46% of children who are raped are victims of family members (Langan and Harlow, 1994). The majority of American rape victims (61%) are raped before the age of 18; furthermore, 29% of all rapes occurred when the victim was less than 11 years old. 11% of rape victims are raped by their fathers or step-fathers, and another 16% are raped by other relatives.
A study of victims of father–daughter incest in the 1970s showed that there were “common features” within families before the occurrence of incest: estrangement between the mother and the daughter, extreme paternal dominance, and reassignment of some of the mother’s traditional major family responsibility to the daughter. Oldest and only daughters were more likely to be the victims of incest. It was also stated that the incest experience was psychologically harmful to the woman in later life, frequently leading to feelings of low self-esteem, unhealthy sexual activity, contempt for other women, and other emotional problems.
Adults who as children were incestuously victimized by adults often suffer from low self-esteem, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, and sexual dysfunction, and are at an extremely high risk of many mental disorders, includingdepression, anxiety, phobic avoidance reactions, somatoform disorder, substance abuse, borderline personality disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Research by Leslie Margolin indicates that mother-son incest does not trigger some innate biological response, but that the effects are more directly related to the symbolic meanings attributed to this act by the participants.
The Goler clan is a specific instance in which child sexual abuse in the form of forced adult/child and sibling/sibling incest took place over at least three generations. A number of Goler children were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, cousins, and each other. During interrogation by police, several of the adults openly admitted to engaging in many forms of sexual activity, up to and including full intercourse, multiple times with the children. Sixteen adults (both men and women) were charged with hundreds of allegations of incest and sexual abuse of children as young as five.
In Japan, it is not uncommon for mothers to sexually stimulate their children to soothe them so they will sleep. There have been stories in the press of mother-son incest arising from the strong nature of this relationship in Japan and the important maternal role of ensuring the son succeeds at school. According to Hideo Tokuoka, “When Americans think of incest, they think of fathers and daughters; in Japan one thinks of mothers and sons” due to the extensive media coverage of mother-son incest there.
Between childhood siblings
Childhood sibling–sibling incest is considered to be widespread but rarely reported. It is believed to be the most common form of intrafamilial abuse.
Sibling-sibling incest becomes child-on-child sexual abuse when it occurs without consent, without equality, or as a result of coercion. The most commonly reported form of abusive sibling incest is abuse of a younger sibling by an older sibling. A 2006 study showed a large portion of adults who experienced sibling incest abuse have distorted or disturbed beliefs (such as that the act was “normal”) both about their own experience and the subject of sexual abuse in general.
Sibling abusive incest is most prevalent in families where one or both parents are often absent or emotionally unavailable, with the abusive siblings using incest as a way to assert their power over a weaker sibling. Absence of the father in particular has been found to be a significant element of most cases of sexual abuse of female children by a brother. The damaging effects on both childhood development and adult symptoms resulting from brother–sister sexual abuse are similar to the effects of father–daughter, including substance abuse, depression, suicidality, and eating disorders.
Between consenting adults
Sexual activity between adult close relatives may arise from genetic sexual attraction. This form of incest has not been widely reported in the past, but recent evidence has indicated that this behavior does take place, possibly more often than many people realize. Internet chatrooms and topical websites exist that provide support for incestuous couples.
Proponents of incest between consenting adults draw clear boundaries between the behavior of consenting adults and rape, child molestation, and abusive incest. According to one incest participant who was interviewed for an article in The Guardian:
“You can’t help who you fall in love with, it just happens. I fell in love with my sister and I’m not ashamed … I only feel sorry for my mom and dad, I wish they could be happy for us. We love each other. It’s nothing like some old man who tries to fuck his three-year-old, that’s evil and disgusting … Of course we’re consenting, that’s the most important thing. We’re not fucking perverts. What we have is the most beautiful thing in the world.”
In Slate Magazine, William Saletan drew a legal connection between gay sex and incest between consenting adults. As he described in his article, in 2003, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum commented on a pending U.S. Supreme Court case involving sodomy laws (primarily as a matter of Constitutional rights to Privacy and Equal Protection under the Law). He stated: “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery.” However, David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign professed outrage that Santorum placed being gay on the same moral and legal level as someone engaging in incest. Saletan argued that, legally and morally, there is essentially no difference between the two, and went on to support incest between consenting adults being covered by a legal right to privacy. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh has made similar arguments. In a more recent article, Saletan said that incest is wrong because it introduces the possibility of irreparably damaging family units by introducing “a notoriously incendiary dynamic—sexual tension—into the mix” .
Between adult siblings
The most public case of consensual adult sibling incest in recent years is the case of a brother-sister couple from Germany, Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski. Because of violent behavior on the part of the father, the brother was taken in at the age of 3 by foster parents, who adopted him later. At the age of 23 he learned about his biological parents, contacted his mother, and met her and his then 16 year old sister for the first time. The now-adult brother moved in with his birth family shortly thereafter. After their mother died suddenly six months later, the couple became intimately close, and had their first child together in 2001. By 2004, they had four children together: Eric, Sarah, Nancy, and Sofia. The public nature of their relationship, and the repeated prosecutions and even jail time they have served as a result, has caused some in Germany to question whether incest between consenting adults should be punished at all. An article about them in Der Spiegel states that the couple are happy together. According to court records, the first three children have mental and physical disabilities, and have been placed in foster care. However, Susan herself is mentally slow, which may explain the disabilities, but there is still debate over if their disabilities are from incest or their genetics. In April 2012, at the European Court of Human Rights, Patrick Stuebing lost his case that the conviction violated his right to a private and family life.
Marriages and sexual relationships between first cousins are stigmatized as incest in western cultures. In modern secular law, notably some US states, prohibit marriages between first cousins. Currently, 24 states prohibit such marriages, and another seven permit them only under special circumstances. Cousin marriages, while not illegal, are highly stigmatized, except in the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of Asia. Communities such as the Dhond and the Bhittani of Pakistan clearly prefer marriages between cousins as they ensure purity of the descent line, provide intimate knowledge of the spouses, and ensure that patrimony will not pass into the hands of “outsiders”.
Apart from the partial prohibition in the United States, there are some cultures in Asia which stigmatize cousin marriage, in some instances even marriages between second cousins or more remotely related people. This concerns notably the culture of Korea, and some Hindu communities in India. In South Korea, before 1997, anyone with the same last name and clan were prohibited from marriage. In light of this law being held unconstitutional, South Korea now only prohibits up to third cousins (see Article 809 of the Korean Civil Code). In Western Australia over 500 marriages are between cousins. In a review of 48 studies on the children parented by cousins, most of the babies born to cousins were healthy contrary to the popular perception, with birth defects being 4% of births for consanguineous couples as opposed to 2% for the general population. Inbreeding over many generations does increase risks however.
Incest defined through marriage
Some cultures include relatives by marriage in incest prohibitions; these relationships are called affinity rather than consanguinity. For example, the question of the legality and morality of a widower who wished to marry his deceased wife’s sister was the subject of long and fierce debate in the United Kingdom in the 19th century, involving, among others, Matthew Boulton. In medieval Europe, standing as a godparent to a child also created a bond of affinity. But in other societies, a deceased spouse’s sibling was considered the ideal person to marry. The Hebrew Bible forbids a man from marrying his brother’s widow with the exception that, if his brother died childless, the man is instead required to marry his brother’s widow so as to “raise up seed to him” (taken from Deuteronomy 25:5–6).
Incest that results in offspring is a form of close inbreeding (reproduction between two individuals with a common ancestor). Inbreeding leads to a higher probability of congenital birth defects because it increases that proportion of zygotes that are homozygous, in particular for deleterious recessive alleles that produce such disorders. Because most such alleles are rare in populations, it is unlikely that two unrelated marriage partners will both be heterozygous carriers. However, because close relatives share a large fraction of their alleles, the probability that any such rare deleterious allele present in the common ancestor will be inherited from both related parents is increased dramatically with respect to non-inbred couples. Contrary to common belief, inbreeding does not in itself alter allele frequencies, but rather increases the relative proportion of homozygotes to heterozygotes. However, because the increased proportion of deleterious homozygotes exposes the allele to natural selection, in the long run its frequency decreases more rapidly in inbred population. In the short term, incestuous reproduction is expected to produce increases in spontaneous abortions of zygotes, perinatal deaths, and postnatal offspring with birth defects.
There may also be other deleterious effects besides those caused by recessive diseases. Thus, similar immune systems may be more vulnerable to infectious diseases (see Major histocompatibility complex and sexual selection).
A 1994 study found a mean excess mortality with inbreeding among first cousins of 4.4%. Children of parent-child or sibling-sibling unions are at increased risk compared to cousin-cousin unions. Studies suggest that 20-36% of these children will die or have major disability due to the inbreeding. A study of 29 offspring resulting from brother-sister or father-daughter incest found that 20 had congenital abnormalities, including four directly attributable to autosomal recessive alleles.
Many mammal species including humanity’s closest primate relatives tend to avoid close inbreeding, especially if there are alternative partners available However some chimpanzees have been recorded attempting to mate with their mothers. Male rats have been recorded engaging in mating with their sisters, but they tend to prefer non-related females over their sisters.
Livestock breeders often practice controlled breeding to eliminate undesirable characteristics within a population, which is also coupled with culling of what is considered unfit offspring, especially when trying to establish a new and desirable trait in the stock.
In popular culture
Incest is a somewhat popular topic in English erotic fiction; there are entire collections and websites devoted solely to this genre, with an entire genre of pornographic pulp fiction known as “incest novels”. This is probably because, as with many other fetishes, the taboo nature of the act adds to the titillation. With the advent of the Internet, even more of this type of fiction is available.
Incest is illegal in many jurisdictions. The exact legal definition of “incest,” including the nature of the relationship between persons, and the types sexual activity, varies by country, and by even individual states or provinces within a country. These laws can also extend to marriage between subject individuals.
In some places, incest is illegal, regardless of the ages of the two partners. In other places, incestuous relationships between two consenting adults (with the age varying by location) are permitted. Such countries where it is permissible and legal, includes the Netherlands and Sweden where incestuous couples must seek government counseling before marriage. The only type of incestuous relationship allowed by law in Sweden is that between half-siblings.
A jurisdiction’s definition of an incestuous relationship will also limit who a person is permitted to marry. Some jurisdictions forbid first-cousins to marry, while others limit the prohibition to brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles.
In three places in the Torah, there are lists of family members between whom it is prohibited to have sexual relations; each of these lists is progressively shorter. The biblical lists are not symmetrical – the implied rules for women and men are not the same. Relationships compare as follows:
Forbidden for men
Forbidden for women
Forbidden for both men and women
Leviticus 18 Leviticus 20
Grandparent’s spouse (including other grandparent)
Parent’s spouse Parent
Uncle/aunt Parent’s sibling
Uncle’s/aunt’s spouse Father’s sibling’s spouse
Mother’s sibling’s spouse
Parent’s child Half-Sibling (mother’s side)
Father’s child Sibling
Half-sibling (father’s side)
Sibling-in-law (if the spouse was still alive)
Nephew/niece Sibling’s child
Nephew/niece-in-law Spouse’s brother’s child
Spouse’s sister’s child
Spouse’s child Child
Spouse’s grandchild (including grandchild)
Apart from the questionable case of the daughter, the first incest list in the Holiness code roughly produces the same rules as were followed in early (pre-Islamic) Arabic culture; in Islam, these pre-existing rules were made statutory.
In the 4th century BCE, the Soferim (scribes) declared that there were relationships within which marriage constituted incest, in addition to those mentioned by the Torah. These additional relationships were termed seconds (Hebrew:sheniyyot), and included the wives of a man’s grandfather and grandson. The classical rabbis prohibited marriage between a man and any of these seconds of his, on the basis that doing so would act as a safeguard against infringing the biblical incest rules, although there was inconclusive debate about exactly what the limits should be for the definition of seconds.
Marriages forbidden in the Torah were regarded by the rabbis of the Middle Ages as invalid – as if they had never occurred; any children born to such a couple were regarded as Jewish bastards, and the relatives of the spouse were not regarded as forbidden relations for a further marriage. On the other hand, those relationships which were prohibited due to qualifying as seconds, and so forth, were regarded as wicked, but still valid; while they might have pressured such a couple to divorce, any children of the union were still seen as legitimate.
In the Roman Catholic Church, marriage is generally not permitted if the potential spouses are related in the collateral line up to and including the second degree, although a dispensation may be granted permitting marriages between first cousins or even uncle/niece unions as in the marriage of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor to his niece, and first cousin, Margarita Teresa of Spain in 1666. The Church does not generally permit the marriage if a doubt exists on whether the potential spouses are related by consanguinity in any degree of the direct line or in the second degree of the collateral line.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, marriages are banned between second cousins or closer and between second uncles / aunts and second nieces / nephews (between first cousins once removed) or closer. Also, marriages that produce children that are closer genetic relatives than legal are also not permitted (unless the genetic relationship does allow marriage between those children). For example, two siblings may not marry two other siblings because legally their children will be cousins, but genetically they’ll be half-siblings. On the other hand, two siblings may marry two cousins.
The Anglican Communion allows marriages up to and including first cousins. But in all of the three preceding Christian churches, marriages to uncles, aunts, relatives in the direct line, or their respective spouses are not allowed.
The Quran gives specific rules regarding incest, which prohibit a man from marrying or having sexual relationships with:
his father’s wife (his mother, or stepmother ), his mother-in-law, a woman from whom he has nursed,
either parent’s sister (aunt),
his sister, his half sister, a woman who has nursed from the same woman as he, his sister-in-law (wife’s sister) while still married,
his niece (child of sibling),
his daughter, his stepdaughter (if the marriage to her mother had been consummated), his daughter-in-law.
The main differences (apart from relationships between a man and his daughter) are:
a woman from whom he has nursed
a woman who has nursed from the same woman as he
A Hadith also prohibits marriage to a woman and her parent’s sister at the same time. The same applies for a woman with the male counterparts to the aforementioned.
Hinduism speaks of incest in abhorrent terms. Hindus are fearful of the bad effects of incest and thus practice strict rules of both endogamy and exogamy within castes (Varna) but not in the same family tree (gotra) or bloodline (Pravara). Marriages within the gotra (“swagotra” marriages) are banned under the rule of exogamy in the traditional matrimonial system. People within the gotra are regarded as kin and marrying such a person would be thought of as incest. i.e. Marriage with paternal cousins is strictly prohibited. Marriage with maternal cousins and marriages between uncle and niece were widely in practice. In fact marriage between two people whose parents are related paternally up to seven generations is expressly prohibited. Gotra is transferred down the male lineage while the Gotra of a female changes upon marriage. i.e., upon marriage a woman belongs to her husband’s Gotra and no longer belongs to her father’s Gotra.Hence marriage with a person having same Gotra as of the original Gotras of grandparents is prohibited
Buddhist societies take a strong ethical stand in human affairs and sexual behavior in particular. Most variations of Buddhism decide locally about the details of incest as a wrongdoing, according to local cultural standards. Sexual misconduct is mentioned but the definition of what constitutes misconduct sex is an individual issue. The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics are the Five Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path: one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is “To refrain from committing sexual misconduct”. ‘Sexual misconduct’ means any sexual conduct involving violence, manipulation or deceit – conduct that therefore leads to suffering and trouble. Buddhist monks and nuns strictly forbid any type of sexual misconduct but incest is not specifically defined as sexual misconduct, and therefore depends on the culture of the area, not on mandate from Buddhism itself. However, there are no enforced rules for laypeople in Buddhism, only guidance.
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