Li Xiaokai died of kidney failure on the old wooden bed in the family farmhouse, just before dawn on a drizzly Sept. 10.
Her grandmother wrapped the 9-month-old in a wool blanket. Her father handed the body to village men for burial by a muddy creek. The doctors and family never knew why she got sick. A day later, state media reported that the type of infant formula she drank had been adulterated with an industrial chemical.
By CHARLES HUTZLER, Associated Press Writer
Yet the deaths of Xiaokai and at least four other babies are not included in China‘s official death toll from its worst food safety scare in years. The Health Ministry’s count stands at only three deaths.
The stories of these uncounted babies suggest that China’s tainted milk scandal has exacted a higher human toll than the government has so far acknowledged. Without an official verdict on the deaths, families worry they will be unable to bring lawsuits and refused compensation.
So far, nobody is suggesting large numbers of deaths are being concealed. But so many months passed before the scandal was exposed that it’s likely more babies fell sick or died than official figures reflect.
Beijing‘s apparent reluctance to admit a higher toll is reinforcing perceptions that the authoritarian government cares more about tamping down criticism than helping families. Lawyers, doctors and reporters have said privately that authorities pressured them to not play up the human cost or efforts to get compensation from the government or Sanlu, the formula maker.
“It’s hard to say how the government will handle this matter,” said Zhang Xinkui, a Beijing-based lawyer amassing evidence of the contamination for a possible lawsuit. “There may be many children who perhaps died from drinking Sanlu powdered milk or perhaps from a different cause. But there’s no system in place to find out.”
In the weeks since Xiaokai’s death, her father and his older brother have talked to lawyers and beseeched health officials, with no result.
“My heart is in pain,” said her father, Li Xiaoquan, a short, taciturn farmer with hooded eyes. From a corner of his farmhouse courtyard in central China’s wheat and corn flatlands, he pulls a worn green box that once held apples and is now stuffed with empty pink wrappers of the Sanlu Infant Formula Milk Powder that Xiaokai nursed on. “We think someone, the company, should compensate us.”