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Angry parents in China

By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Producer

2008 was not a good year for parents in China.  And 2009 might not be much of an improvement.

Last May's earthquake in Sichuan saw the collapse of some 7,000 classrooms, killing thousands of students. 

Four months later, news surfaced that a major brand of infant formula contained melamine, an industrial chemical that was added to help artificially boost the protein levels in watered-down milk.  At least six babies have died and more than a quarter million more fallen ill from drinking the tainted formula.

Compensation will be available to families of victims in both instances.  The government has offered $8,823 for each killed child to the quake parents.  The China Dairy Association this week confirmed a compensation plan was in the works for the milk parents. Some reports have said families could receive up to $29,000 if their children died, but the details are still unclear.

But parents in both cases are outraged.

Many quake parents say they want answers, and some have taken legal action against local officials, construction companies, and school authorities--all of whom they believe are responsible for allowing the shoddy construction of school buildings that collapsed in the earthquake.  A pay-out is not going to silence their demands for justice.  And, as my colleague Gu Bo reports, these 58 families remain steadfast--and courageous--in the face of relentless pressure from local officials to give up their lawsuit.

Similarly, in the milk scandal, many parents are criticizing the dairy association for not giving details immediately about the compensation plan. Lan Juanxian, young mother of twin boys aged 14 months old, traveled all the way from Guangxi province in the far southwest to join a group of ten parents in western Beijing to protest the proposed compensation. 

"Has [the fund] started? How does it work? I don't know where the fund will be set up," she said. "Is it in Beijing? I'm far from Beijing…How do I find it?" 

But Lan did say she was told that parents of sick babies with less severe symptoms would receive just under $300 (2,000 yuan) for compensation.

"When our kids grow up, if they have kidney failure or other illnesses, they'd say, When I had trouble, you took that 2,000 yuan. You bought my whole life for 2,000?  No!'" said Lan, crying angrily.

                      
                   Click here to watch an interview with Lan Juanxian

Dozens of parents have opted to file lawsuits against Sanlu Group, the dairy company at the centre of the melamine-contaminated milk scandal. 

Although the company declared bankruptcy last month, victims' families across China say Sanlu--and 21 other dairy companies also guilty of selling milk products containing melamine--should be held accountable. But a court has yet to hear a case filed by parents of victims in the milk scandal.

"What about the pain my children had to suffer?" asked Lan. "They are so small, what do they know?  All they can do is cry helplessly."