01/23/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Death penalty, life sentences in tainted milk scandal not enough for families of sick children

The condemned are scapegoats, while the responsibility of the health authorities and the government has not been established. Parents of sick children insist on adequate compensation for their damages.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - There is a cold, unsatisfied rage among the parents of thousands of infants sickened by melamine-contaminated milk, one day after all of the 21 people accused were declared guilty, with two of them condemned to death. Now the parents are insisting on adequate compensation, and are asking why no state officials have been held responsible. (In the photo: the mother of an infant who died with a sign reading 'Give me back my son').

Yesterday, the court in Shijiazhuang (Hebei) sentenced Zhang Yujun to death for producing and selling 600 tons of "protein powder" containing melamine, together with another dairy producer, Geng Jinpin, for similar reasons. Gao Junjie has also been sentenced to death, but has received a suspended sentence of two years, avoiding execution on the condition of good behavior.

Tian Wenhua, 66, former head of the company Sanlu, had confessed that he knew for months about the adulteration, and was late in reporting it to the health authorities. It is perhaps because of his confession that he has been sentenced to "only" life in prison, and to a fine of almost 25 million yuan (2.5 million euros).

There have been two other life sentences, while the other accused have received sentences of various lengths.

But the sentences have not satisfied the families, who are again forcefully requesting adequate compensation for the damage that this milk has caused to the six children who died and the approximately 300,000 who have kidney problems, many of them serious. In recent months, the judges have refused to consider their requests for compensation from Sanlu, which has since gone bankrupt.

Beijing has repeatedly said that it intends to offer compensation, but it has always spoken of numbers that are viewed as being too low. The 22 dairy companies responsible have offered 200,000 yuan for the death of a child, 30,000 yuan for serious illness, and only 2,000 all the rest. In recent days, hundreds of parents sent a petition to the government, recalling that "the children are the future of every family, and even more so of the nation," and asking for compensation to be established following "consultations." They are also asking that the possible damaging consequences for their children be established first. They are afraid that the government will pay them off with a few thousand yuan, while their children could be left with serious illnesses requiring an entire lifetime of treatment.

Liu Donglin, whose 21-month-old son has kidney stones, observes that "these are only scapegoats. The ones who should take responsibility are the government, the office for the supervision of quality, the health ministry. I have already spent about 20,000 yuan for treatment for my son, and the government wants to reimburse me with just 2,000 yuan."

The state media themselves observe that at least eight public officials have been removed, and the head of the office for quality inspection, Li Changjiang, has been replaced, but no official has been charged with any crime. They also note that in addition to Sanlu, 21 other companies sold milk and other products contaminated with melamine, but have not faced criminal charges.

The lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who is assisting many of these families, reiterates that "the parents simply want compensation, and the assurance of [free] medical care for future problems. These sentences do not respond to such necessities."

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