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A shocking case of a family of ~40 in rural Australia, the “Colts” (it’s a pseudonym), which has engaged in several generations of first degree incest has surfaced. You can read the summary in the press. But the Australian government has released a report on the case. I haven’t read most of it because the snippets I have stumbled upon are very disturbing. But, I was curious as to the characterization of the 12 children who were removed by social services. In particular, only one, Cindy, had parents who were unrelated. Note how different she is:

Cindy Colt (5), Rhonda Colt’s daughter, was medically examined on the day of her removal. She had a viral cold, but her health and hygiene was otherwise observed to be good, and her clothes were clean. She was suffering from an ear infection, although her mother had taken her to hospital two weeks prior to her removal to have this problem treated. She was unable to brush her teeth properly, though it is to be noted she was only 4 at the time. She could not bathe or dress herself, but unlike other children was reportedly capable of using toilet paper. But she preferred to eat with her fingers. She also required dental treatment, although it was submitted that her needs in this regard may not have been readily apparent to a lay observer, given the apparent absence of complaints of pain. Unlike the other children, Cindy presented as a well-spoken polite, bright, intelligent girl whose development was normal for her age. As previously noted, of all the children, the genetic testing demonstrated that her parents were not related.

From the descriptions it sounds as if most of the other children suffer at least mild retardation, and that factor compounded the clear neglect and abuse at the hands of adults. The lives of the children on the farm seem analogous to “Lord of the Flies,” with a large dosage of incest thrown into the mix.

• Category: Science • Tags: Inbreeding, Incest 
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  1. Para. 151. I didn’t enjoy finding that, but it was not a surprise.

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  2. To be clear, in the judgement, the judge did not make reference to the full content of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998, but only to those provisions of the Act which he evidently considered relevant. I think that nails the inference from para. 151, despite para. 8 maybe suggesting otherwise.

    I have read the full judgement. I don’t recommend it, but it is informative to note that, in addition to 11 of the 12 children showing cognitive disability, 8 of them have at least mild hearing impairment, a couple of them have visual impairment, a couple of them are unable to walk normally, one of them has dysmorphic facial features, another child who displayed dysmorphic features died of a rare genetic syndrome aged 2 months, and a further child is noted to have died as a baby, without any mention of cause. Plus there is mention of miscarriages occurring on the farm.

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  3. Revolting!

    Is this some kind of welfare scam? They sounded quite poor; does the Australian government have welfare for minors or something that the parents were skimming? Or is it just unchecked depravity?

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  4. Weaver says:

    Garbage In, Garbage Out

    Inbreeding doesn’t create mutations; it simply reveals them if two copies of a preexisting recessive gene are expressed.

    The primary reason inbreeding, for example exclusively marrying within one’s ethnicity, is bad is it creates a clannish, closed view of the world when most today want a global world that lacks irrational heritage and traditions.

    Inbreeding to the Colts extent is shocking and especially bad for the social issues. A parent should never sleep with his children, nor siblings with one another!

    Tristan da Cunha is an example of inbreeding that began with and thus continues to suffer from asthma. Studies have been done to isolate the asthma causing gene(s) with the assumption their cause is ancestral not the result of inbreeding. Unless some sort of natural selection occurs and possibly healthy versions of genes where missing from the pool, the genetics there will continue to worsen. Similarly, our own open societies are slowly moving towards idiocracy and increased genetic sickness.

    Iceland is an example of inbreeding that has caused no problems. If we say Icelandics have genetic issues, we’ll have to admit they haven’t greater issues than have others in the world. Iceland does suffer from recent brain drain, which is an entirely separate phenomena.

    Pitcairn Islands is a Lord of the Flies example of depravity. Rape of young girls has become “part of the culture”.

    Search HBD Chick’s blog for a quote from Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica (pg. 2749) on inbreeding:

    “Hence in olden time marriage was forbidden … within … degrees of consanguinity, in order that consanguinity and affinity might be the sources of a wider friendship”.

    Then Aquinas continues with:

    “Afterwards, however, towards these latter times the prohibition of the Church has been restricted to the fourth degree, because it became useless and dangerous to extend the prohibition to more remote degrees of consanguinity. Useless, because charity waxed cold in many hearts so that they had scarcely a greater bond of friendship with their more remote kindred than with strangers: and it was dangerous because through the prevalence of concupiscence and neglect men took no account of so numerous a kindred, and thus the prohibition of the more remote degrees became for many a snare leading to damnation.”

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  5. TGGP says: • Website

    I’m guessing Weaver is not very familiar with you and your background.

    I’m wondering why the Westermarck effect didn’t inhibit this.

    And on an only vaguely related note, “The Unspeakable Act” is a pretty good movie. It thankfully does not contain any incest or the prospect that it might occur.

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  6. In fairness, given the children were raised apparently socially isolated from the outside world, some of their issues may have been due to group social factors. For example, the poor speech noted by many/all could simply be that the children had developed their own creole language which was drifting away from the language patterns of the adults.

    I did wonder how this family was supporting itself however. Presumably they must have some contact with the outside world and intelligence to even collect public benefits and purchase essentials.

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  7. that’s why i focused on the one outbred child. did you read the descriptions of all the children? they were keen to note that she was the only one who came close to normal speech.

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  8. Nick says:

    Time to conduct a linguistics study.

    The Colt Family Dialect: Creole or just Retarded?

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  9. Nick says:


    Does the one girl demonstrate that if someone who is heavily inbred has a child with someone who is unrelated, that their child has a good chance of being “normal”?

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  10. Helena says:

    both I imagine @karch_buttreau, australia has substantial welfare benefits, parenting payments, in addition to a single parenting payments, disability, carer and unemployment payments, seems they were well taking advantage along with their depravity

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  11. Newspaper reports need to be critically assessed. Sensational crimes can be further sensationalized in an hysterical blend of fears and fantasies, the kind of thing that filled in the content of witchcraft reports.

    “In Dr Marks’ opinion, the cytogenetic testing demonstrated that 5 of the Colt children removed on 18 July 2012 have parents who are “closely related” and another 5 have parents who are “related”.” Reading this I went back and looked at the diagram in the article first linked to. According to it “Betty” had one child from a close relative, either her father “Tim” or a brother. It also indicates that she had four more children by “relatives,” which the legend indicates would be a half-brother, uncle, nephew or grandfather. The nephews by sister “Martha” are too young, which leaves “Cliff” the only male old enough to qualify. But the report found by the other link cited no allegations against him. I conclude that on the face of it there is too much information withheld to be too confident in the details of this story.

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  12. Newspaper reports need to be critically assessed.

    unless the investigators are literally making up the estimates of runs of homozygosity there is clearly first degree incest going on here to some degree.

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  13. @stevenjohnson: Plus the primary record is the judgement from the Children’s Court of New South Wales, which has been published in full, and the link to which is given in the second sentence of Razib’s post. It makes absolutely clear that multi-generational incest occurred, based on both genetic testing and corroborating oral evidence, and that it was *on-going*. No sensationalising necessary.

    Incidentally, judgements from the Children’s Court are not normally made public, but it was in this case because this was a legal precedent – the first time since the current law was enacted in 1998 that the court found that the removal of the children from their mothers should be *permanent*, with “no realistic possibility of restoration of any child to any mother”.

    If you are familiar with the term ‘Stolen Generations’, you will realise that the permanent removal of children from their mothers is an extremely sensitive issue in Australia, and not something that any judge is going to order without compelling evidence of need.

    Your use of the terms ‘hysterical’, ‘fantasies’ and ‘witchcraft’ suggest that you have either not read the judgement, or did not realise that is what it is.

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  14. In addition to the social taboo against incest, is there a built in biological barrier? If so, one could speculate it that it could be lost by a mutation or series of mutations, be stronger in some than in others. It may be too rare a phenomena to tease out easily. Imagine a 23andMe question “Are you interested in incest?” I don’t think that would fly.

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  15. Does the one girl demonstrate that if someone who is heavily inbred has a child with someone who is unrelated, that their child has a good chance of being “normal”?

    standard population genetic theory. unmasked alleles get masked in one generation of outbreeding.

    is there a built in biological barrier

    read comments closely. someone already mentioned it:

    If so, one could speculate it that it could be lost by a mutation or series of mutations, be stronger in some than in others

    don’t speculate.

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  16. A horror story, but I see another horrifying ethical aspect in it. Isn’t there a chicken and egg problem of consent to genetic testing of minor children?

    The genetic test results were the centerpiece of the decision to strip mothers of their parental rights, yet how could one conduct a genetic test with stark clinical implications without informed consent signed by the parent who hasn’t yet been stripped of rights?

    (There is plenty of additional evidence of neglect and abuse in the file, but generally it does little to implicate the mothers who are described as working to improve the living conditions, and disapproving of the abuse and punishing the abusers?)

    Another ethical quandary is with the disclosure of the genetic results. The US law allows for limited disclosure of clinically relevant genetic data to law enforcement when it is indicative of child abuse. But the personal health information must never flow to the public, and mere blanking out of the last names is an absolutely insufficient protection when such personal identifiers as addresses, ages, and physical and mental characteristics of the children are put into public domain.

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  17. re: privacy & genetic tests. i see the point, but one of the major issues being brought to bear is the incest, and that means that ‘genetic privacy’ is kind of implicitly gone. no idea how they’ll keep the identity secret, since locals in the area knew of the family, if not their condition.

    also, the law in australia might be different. recall that that basic liberties were stripped from australian aboriginal tribes a few years back due to concern about sexual abuse. why should this family be different because they’re white?

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  18. Anthony says:

    Privacy concerns can be trumped by the needs of a criminal investigation. Under U.S. law, the prosecutor would have to make the case to a judge that there was evidence of criminal incest, and that genetic testing was necessary to prove it. With that, a judge (in the U.S.) could order the testing. I would expect Australian law to be similar.

    Releasing the data, at least of the minors, to the public would likely not be allowed in the U.S., but as Sandgroper notes, due to the “Stolen Generations” issue in Australia, openness and transparency might be seen as more important than the privacy of technical information about the kids. (After all, anyone who meets the kids will know about many of their phenotypic defects pretty quickly.)

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  19. DP: The kids were already in protective care, so the mothers had no parental rights; they had already been stripped of them. The purpose of the case that was reported was to make permanent the removal of the children into care that had already taken place last year. The immediate priority was obviously to secure the safety of the children from ongoing sexual abuse and serious health neglect, matters on which the mothers had taken no corrective action at all or would even recognise as reality; that trumped concerns about genetic privacy. In this case, the state had legal custody of the children, and therefore ‘parental consent’ rested with the state.

    The reason the genetic data were reported in this case was because the mothers were legally challenging the validity of the data, so it formed part of the judgement. I have already given the reason for why the judgement was made public; normally it would not have been.

    The detailed genetic data have not been revealed, only so much as was required to establish in court the incidences of incest. The permanent disabilities and dysmorphia of 13 of the 14 children taken into care (11 in the state of New South Wales and 2 in the state of Victoria) are going to be self-evident.

    I don’t know why you should think US law should have any relevance in Australia.

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  20. It still doesn’t sound right. If the DNA test was ordered by the investigators to establish paternity, then they should have, doh, ordered paternity testing – a kind of a test routinely administered in legal proceedings, not suffering from the ambiguity of the homozygous-stretch test used instead, and most importantly without a nominal clinical significance. If the legal guardians of the minors weren’t any longer their biological mothers, then it removes a part of the consent problem, but not all of it: the document never mentions if the proper informed consent procedures were followed, and how they plan to ensure long-term followup in a system where the removed children move from one guardian to the next.

    Sandgroper, if your neighbors know something about your medical or genetic conditions, that doesn’t strip your privacy rights and doesn’t free the government to disseminate the details to the whole world, does it? (And of course by mentioning US law, I never intended to say it should apply in Oz … just that the underlying ethical questions aren’t some hypothetical fringe concern; rather, they’re so widely accepted that they’ve been incorporated into laws of a major industrialized nation)

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  21. (and of course clinical actionability isn’t limited to “explaining the disability in the most general terms” as in the title of this piece. Of course consanguinity as fraught with substantial health risks. The question is has many layers of complexity. For example, disability may include a failure to synthesize an important cofactor, or a metabolic failure which renders a nutrient toxic for development. Then, a dietary supplement, or a diet purged of a toxic component, will help the children. There could also be protein-stability problems potentially mitigated with proteasome inhibitor drugs. Not to mention a potential of gene therapy. In addition to such a biochemical mitigation of disabilities, homozygous stretches may hold an answer to yet-unidentified problems, such as adverse reactions to medications etc. )

    There is quite a bit of potentially clinically relevant info in the map of homozygocity. To reduce it all to affirmation of the common old-wives wisdom that incest makes disabled children, and there is nothing to be done after it happens, is so unbecoming of geneticists!

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  22. This was not a criminal prosecution. It was an application to the Children’s Court by the Director General of the Department for Family and Community Services for ‘final orders’ to place the children in care, based on the Director General’s contention that there was ‘no realistic possibility’ of the children being restored to the parental responsibility of their mothers. The person who has had that parental responsibility since July 2012 is the government Minister and, in effect, the purpose of the application was to make that arrangement ‘permanent’ – the Minister will retain that parental responsibility until the children attain legal adulthood at the age of 18. So consent to the testing rested with the Minister, not a bunch of foster parents.

    Why and how should the ‘investigators’ order paternity testing? Do you imagine the fathers would be willing to consent to provide samples? One of them is deceased, and I don’t see ‘Uncle Charlie’ fronting up for this. Given that it was not a criminal prosecution, there were no legal grounds to compel him or any other adult to provide samples.

    In this case, the ‘government’ has not disseminated the children’s genetic data to the whole world. The law courts are not part of the government. The mothers of the children have forced the disclosures on the children’s genetic data in the Children’s Court by contesting the Director General’s application, and by contesting the results of the genetic testing. The genetic testing was only necessary because the mothers consistently denied that any incest had taken place, with the exception of the 27 year old woman ‘Tammy’ in the state of Victoria, who was not available to give evidence in this hearing (she is actually marked as ‘deceased’ in the news article that Razib linked to, but I can’t determine if that is correct or not). Even so, normally the record made by the judge on that would never be made public. In this case, the judge determined that it had to be.

    I am not sanguine about the privacy of genetic data, far from it, but in this case, I don’t see that the judge had any other option – the mothers of the children forced the issue.

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  23. I might add, we can expect criminal charges to flow from this, at which point I presume paternity testing of one or more of the people charged will become a legal possibility.

    But so far, the only person charged with criminal offences is one of the mothers, who has been charged with unlawfully procuring the removal of a child in care, and unlawfully procuring a child for the commission of crime.

    It is going to get worse for the kids, because assuming there will be other people charged with criminal offences, I don’t see how the true identities of those people can continue to be concealed.

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