x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Money for tainted milk victims not enough

Lawyers for the families of Chinese children sickened by tainted milk say a compensation plan would likely be inadequate and lacked transparency.

BEIJING // Lawyers for the families of Chinese children sickened by tainted milk said today that a compensation plan announced recently would likely be inadequate and lacked transparency, though they cautiously welcomed any move to help victims. The Dairy Industry Association said 22 dairy producers would make a one-time cash payment to the families of at least six babies who died and the 294,000 other children who suffered kidney and urinary problems from drinking infant formula contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, the official Xinhua News agency reported yesterday.

They will also establish a fund to cover medical bills for future health problems, although it did not disclose an amount, the agency said. Calls to the association rang unanswered today. "Previously we didn't see any hope of the families being compensated, but now we do," Chang Boyang, a Henan-based lawyer who has provided legal assistance to families of children who became ill, said. Some families have already received 2,000 yuan (Dh1,000), Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing lawyer, said.

Lawyers have said they heard that most children who suffered kidney stones from the tainted milk would get 2,000 yuan while seriously sickened children would be paid 30,000 yuan. "We think this compensation is insufficient and is an injustice," Mr Xu wrote on his blog. He said the families of sickened children should have been consulted before payouts were awarded. "This is a plan that has been imposed upon the victims and does not fundamentally solve the problem," Mr Xu said. "There is still no justice and no responsibility."

The compensation issue is highly sensitive. Chinese courts have rejected all claims filed by the victims' families, including a claim filed this month by Mr Xu and five other lawyers representing 63 defendants. The group was seeking nearly 14 million yuan in compensation from the state-owned Sanlu Group, the dairy at the centre of the scandal. The court said it could not accept the case until the government completed its investigations into the scandal.

An activist lawyers' group, of which Mr Xu is a member, vowed to push on with separate legal claims. The scandal caused outrage in China, particularly among parents who felt the government breached their trust by certifying the tainted infant formula as safe. The crisis highlighted a widespread practice among dairy suppliers who watered down the milk they bought from farmers and then added melamine to it to artificially boost its protein levels. The tainted milk was then sold to dairy companies.