BEIJING — A group of Chinese parents whose children were poisoned by tainted domestic dairy products said they would reject a government-sanctioned compensation package. Instead, they said they would press for long-term health care for the victims and demand medical research into the illnesses that still afflict tens of thousands of children.
The parents, who have gathered 250 signatures since Sunday, have become an irksome challenge to officials seeking to quell public anger over the widespread contamination of the nation’s dairy supply.
Nearly 300,000 children became sick and at least six infants died after consuming milk products laced with melamine, an industrial chemical often used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizer. Melamine, which causes kidney ailments, was added to watered-down milk in an effort to falsely indicate the presence of protein.
Zhao Lianhai, 37, the father of a 4-year-old boy made ill by the milk, said the $160 million compensation plan announced last month was inadequate and failed to address the medical needs of children whose health had been profoundly damaged.
“Our biggest demand is not the compensation, but medical treatment and academic research on the influence that melamine will have on the health of our children,” Mr. Zhao, a former journalist, said in interview. “We want to know what kinds of lives our children will face.”
The current offer, which is to be financed by 22 dairy companies, provides about $29,000 for each family that lost a child and about $4,400 for each child who suffered serious kidney damage. The families of children with relatively minor health problems would receive about $290. That is about three months of the average worker’s salary.
In recent months some of the parents have filed lawsuits against the companies, although the courts have refused to accept the cases. On Jan. 1, five people, including Mr. Zhao, were detained by the authorities shortly before they were to hold a news conference in Beijing. They were held overnight and released.
Last week, the former chairwoman of Sanlu, one of the nation’s largest milk producers, pleaded guilty to selling adulterated baby formula. The executive, Tian Wenhua, could be sentenced to life imprisonment or death.
In testimony late last month, Ms. Tian said the company knew about the contamination as early as last May, but had failed to notify the authorities. Mr. Zhao said that the parents posted a version of their letter online on Saturday demanding greater compensation, but that it had been blocked by government censors. Among the parents’ complaints, he said, is a rule that withholds compensation for children over 3 years old. He added that the package provided no assistance to the families that incurred tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills.
He added that his own son still vomited, and that many parents were worried that unforeseen health care problems could emerge over time. “The compensation is really not the most important thing,” he said. “Money won’t help if our children are still sick 10 years later.”
Huang Yuanxi contributed research.