Parents Question Chinese Milk Compensation Plan

Court verdicts are expected soon in an ongoing scandal over tainted milk in China.

The contaminated milk has so far killed six children and made nearly 300,000 sick.

Some victims' families are questioning the government's compensation plan.

As is often the case in China these days, victims' families first got together online. In English, their Web site's name means Kidney Stone Babies. That's because many of the children who drank milk or milk powder tainted with the chemical melamine developed painful kidney stones.

On Friday, police detained and then released the Web site's creator and some parents who planned to give a press conference.

Other parents met reporters on the street. Lan Junxian, 23, is the mother of twins, both of whom got kidney stones after drinking Sanlu brand milk powder.

"The government has promised compensation worth $30,000 for fatalities and up to $7,300 for serious cases," Lan says. "I may get no more than $300. We're just here to defend our children's rights. Right now, they've only got kidney stones, but we don't know what ailments might affect them in future."

The government plan calls for a one-time payment and a fund to cover victims' medical expenses until they're 18 years old. On Friday, the parents demanded lifelong medical care for their children, and research into the possible harm that melamine can cause.

Hou Rongbo says his eight-month-old son, who was raised on Sanlu milk powder, was first diagnosed with kidney stones, then with leukemia. He doesn't know whether melamine is at fault.

"Our child is at home and we have given up on treating him," Hou says. "A bone marrow transplant would require the equivalent of $44,000. We're just an ordinary farming family with very little income. Our child is now one year old, and we just watch him get weaker by the day."

As parents grappled with their ordeal, prosecutors in several north China courts recently laid out charges against Sanlu dairy company executives and melamine producers.

On Wednesday, Sanlu's former general manager, Tian Wenhua admitted that she knew of consumer complaints as early as May, but that Sanlu continued to sell hundreds of tons of tainted milk powder until the scandal went public in September.

Anne-Marie Brady is an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. She says Tian was just following orders.

"So Mrs. Tian's probably feeling very resentful, because she'll know that lots and lots of people knew about what was going on," Brady says. "She's just having to take the blame."

Brady notes that no charges have been brought against the New Zealand dairy firm Fonterra, which held a 43-percent stake in Sanlu. Nor has anyone held the Communist Party's propaganda department accountable for banning media coverage of food safety issues in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Critics say that despite its slogan of "putting people first," Beijing actually made Olympic glory and public image their priorities.

"Unfortunately for those 300,000-odd Chinese kids and their parents, the national interest was much greater than the interests of those people, and their health and safety," Brady says.

China's top product safety official has already resigned in the scandal. Tian Wenhua and her associates face possible life terms in prison.

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