January 23, 2009 / 4:54 AM / 10 years ago

China parents press demands in wake of milk sentences

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese parents of children stricken by toxic milk pressed compensation demands Friday, a day after a court sentenced two people to death and jailed 19 over the scandal in which six infants died.

A woman whose granddaughter was killed during the tainted milk scandal, cries outside Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee

At least eight provincial officials have been sacked and the country’s former quality inspection chief has resigned, but none has yet been charged with a crime, state media said.

Zhao Lianhai, father of a three-year-old who was among the nearly 300,000 children made ill by milk formula tainted with the industrial compound melamine, was among four parents who handed the Ministry of Health a petition with hundreds of parents’ names attached.

The petition, shown to Reuters by Zhao, reflected undiminished anger and demands for greater accountability.

“Children are the future of every family and even more they are the future of the nation,” said the petition, accompanied by the names of hundreds of parents the document said had refused a government compensation offer.

“As parents of stricken children, we believe that the compensation was not established by agreement under conditions of mutual equality and voluntary consultation.”

The group spent several hours discussing their requests with Health Ministry officials.

With the big Lunar New Year holiday starting Monday, the government may hope criminal sentences handed down Thursday will reduce public anger over the nation’s latest food safety scandal before this time of family reunions.

A Chinese court in Shijiazhuang in northern China sentenced two men to death for trading in melamine put in milk. Milk adulterated with the cheap chemical could fool quality checks but caused kidney stones and agonizing complications.

Tian Wenhua, the former general manager of Sanlu Dairy, the Shijiazhuang-based company at the heart of the scandal which broke in September, was sentenced to life in prison.

Two other men in the deadly trade were also sentenced to life and another received a conditional death sentence which, given good behavior, will in two years almost certainly be commuted to life in jail. The other defendants received various sentences, with two being jailed for 15 years, the China Daily said.

INADEQUATE COMPENSATION

The government has offered parents compensation for children killed or made ill by the toxic milk, which Sanlu executives and city officials knew about but did not report for many months.

But the petition rejected the government offer as inadequate, and said parents want to know more about the possibly lasting damage their children face.

“We want them to do more research into the effects of melamine,” said one of the parents, Hou Rongbo, whose son died in early January just a week before his first birthday. Hou believes his son’s death from leukemia was caused or worsened by melamine that also gave him kidney stones.

“There are still many families whose children haven’t received hospital care,” he said.

A Health Ministry official told reporters that his office was talking to the parents, and would let them know within two weeks if their petition would be formally accepted for passing on to government officials.

They would then get a full written reply within two months, under China’s traditional “letters and petitions” system for reporting grievances.

Slideshow (3 Images)

But contention over the scandal is likely to last as long as the government does not give affected families the opportunity to voice their demands, said Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing-based law professor and rights advocate who has represented many of the angry parents.

“What the parents really want is compensation and guarantees about treatment for future problems,” Xu said by telephone.

“The sentences don’t answer those needs.”

Writing and additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dean Yates

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