Ho Thi Thu, 9, who was born with a missing foot. Her parents Ho Ha, 32, and Ho Thi Sam (C), 28, are cousins. Photo: Nguyen Dung
A community of ethnic minority people practising consanguinity in the north-central province of Ha Tinh is causing concern among local authorities due to the increased incidence of congenital disorders among children.
The Ha Tinh Border Guard first saw the Chut ethnic people living in caves in the Truong Son Mountain more than two decades ago and relocated them to Rao Tre village in Huong Khe District.
The 90 people were divided into 18 households, all of them having the family name Ho.
They have gradually expanded into a community of 37 households with 134 people now.
But in recent years the rate of congenital disorders in the third generation born since the group was settled in the village is increasing.
Eight years ago Ho Viet Cuong married Ho Thi Thanh, the daughter of his sister. Cuong, now 36, and Thanh, 33, have two sons and two daughters. Their first child, a girl, had cerebral palsy at birth and died two months afterwards. Their third child, a baby boy, also died five months after birth of pneumonia. The two surviving children are now five years and five months old and in poor health.
Many other people in the village have married cousins, and most children have deformities at birth.
Tran Van Loc, chief of the Huong Lien Commune health center, said it is estimated that one in every four newborns in Rao Tre has birth defects such as missing limbs and cleft palate.
Local authorities blame the consanguineous marriages for this.
Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Vo Trong Hai, chief of the Ha Tinh Border Guard, said the Chut had not totally fitted in with other ethnic groups even 24 years after their settlement. Besides, since they live in a remote area, it is hard for them to travel out of there and meet other Chut living in Quang Binh and Dak Lak provinces, he said.
Therefore, they tend to keep to themselves and marry within their community, he added.
Border guard officers in Rao Tre village and local authorities have taken measures like encouraging the Chut to marry outsiders, promising such married couples land, house and money, but they have not worked.
Huong Khe District authorities have asked the provincial government to build a road connecting the village with Quang Binh Province to enable the Chut living in the two places to meet each other.
They are awaiting a reply.