BEIJING - By the end of last year, the families of 272,000 victims of melamine-tainted milk and dairy products had signed up for one-time compensation payments, said a compensation fund manager.
At least six babies died and another 294,000 suffered urinary illnesses in 2008 when the industrial chemical melamine was put into watered-down milk to boost its protein content.
Some of the roughly 22,000 other families that haven't claimed the money continue to boycott what many of them deem to be an "unfair and opaque" remedy.
Thirty months after the creation of the compensation fund was announced, the China Dairy Industry Association disclosed information about the fund for the first time on May 29, although it did not state how much money has been disbursed in the one-time payments.
The association said the fund consists of a 910-million-yuan ($140 million) pool of money to be used for the one-time payments and a 200-million-yuan pool of money to pay for the medical treatments the young victims of the melamine poisoning will undergo before they turn 18.
The association's website only notes that a partner helping to manage the fund, China Life, has reimbursed 10.48 million yuan that the families of 1,794 of the sickened children have spent on medical costs.
And the medical pool still has 192 million yuan in its account, which has accumulated interest.
An official with the association's general office told China Daily on Wednesday that no senior official of the organization was available to say how much money is left in the pool.
Under the compensation rules, each family of a child that died from the milk can claim 200,000 yuan. The family of a severely sickened child can get 30,000 yuan and that of a mildly sickened child can get 2,000 yuan.
"A very small number of families now have not claimed the one-time compensation because we have inaccurate or inadequate information (about them)," said the association's announcement online.
But there are other explanations for the lack of participation. Jiang Yalin, whose daughter was sickened by the melamine-tainted milk powder, said some parents refused the money because accepting it would not have ended their troubles.
Jiang, 36-year-old mother in Kaili, Guizhou province, said many poor families in rural areas could not afford to give their children medical treatment and, therefore, do not qualify to receive reimbursements. The process of obtaining reimbursement is also riddled with difficulties; at times, doctors are unwilling to certify that it was toxic dairy products that caused a baby to be sick, she said.
Jiang said families often do not receive a reimbursement equal to the total cost of treating their children for melamine poisoning. Some now worry that their children are suffering from chronic kidney damage and that they will not be able to afford a kidney transplant.
She also complained about the amount of compensation. "The 2,000 yuan is even less than what we spent on the tainted milk powder," she said.
Peng Jian, a lawyer for many of the families of the sickened babies, said he accompanied three parents to ask the China Dairy Industry Association to disclose the plans for the use of the compensation fund. Days later, the association posted its announcement online about the use of the fund so far.
"Officials from the association did not heed our request to review the remaining amount of money in the fund," Peng said. "This is a public fund that is to be used for a public cause, and it must be opened to public scrutiny.
"The association isn't acting responsibly if it is not disclosing information about the use of the fund. There's not even anything about how much interest the fund earned."
The online announcement said that the amount of money left unclaimed in the compensation fund by the end of February will be transferred to the medical cost pool.