The story of the brother and sister in east Germany who had four children was reported in the Guardian yesterday.

The couple, who live near Leipzig, grew up separately and only met many years later. Their supporters say they will fight until incest is no longer regarded as a criminal offence, arguing that the law is out of date. They say it harks back to the racial hygiene laws of the Third Reich and should be overturned in favour of freedom of choice and sexual determination. Detractors insist that incest should remain a social taboo, largely because of the risks linked to inbreeding and the imbalance in social relations it inevitably causes.

It does appear that incest is not a crime in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, and according to Wikipedia also not in Luxembourg, Portugal, Turkey, Japan, Argentina, Brazil and some other Latin American countries. And the German three-year prison sentence and removal of the children seem quite inappropriate.

In England and Wales, incest was not a crime till 1908, but was dealt with by the church courts. It’s now governed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which can be looked up here. Prison sentences seem reserved for men or boys who knowingly have sexual intercourse with a daughter, sister etc.

Here’s the Strafgesetzbuch:

§ 173 Beischlaf zwischen Verwandten
(1) Wer mit einem leiblichen Abkömmling den Beischlaf vollzieht, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft.
(2) 1Wer mit einem leiblichen Verwandten aufsteigender Linie den Beischlaf vollzieht, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu zwei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft; dies gilt auch dann, wenn das Verwandtschaftsverhältnis erloschen ist. 2Ebenso werden leibliche Geschwister bestraft, die miteinander den Beischlaf vollziehen.
(3) Abkömmlinge und Geschwister werden nicht nach dieser Vorschrift bestraft, wenn sie zur Zeit der Tat noch nicht achtzehn Jahre alt waren.

Does this mean you don’t need to be aware? The question first came up in connection with the Abstammungsurkunde, the full-form birth certificate, which may tell people they’re adopted but won’t necessarily give the name of the blood father.

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