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Protect our children from poison

By Huang Xiangyang (Chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-03-22 14:17
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How civilized a society depends on the way it treats its children. And for years one incident after another has made me a pessimist in this regard.

As tens of thousands of child victims of tainted milk powder across China are still struggling to recover from the lingering after-effects of the chemical melamine, another piece of news related to children -- often described as the future of our nation -- sends chills down my spine. Instead of being a defense against hepatitis B or encephalitis, vaccines used in Shanxi from 2006 to 2008 have become a killer. So far several children have died and dozens crippled as a result of spoiled vaccines. The scale of damage has yet to be fully revealed.

The news itself is shocking. Yet more shocking is the way the incident has been dealt with after it was brought to light.

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The local authorities rolled out the so-called investigation result in a short span of time and denied any wrongdoing even though evidence points to a possible collusion between an unqualified company who supplied the vaccines and health officials. The parents of victimized children – though harassed by life-threatening messages to keep silent -- vehemently disputed the result. They said they have never been contacted by local health authorities to check on basic facts, as the probe claimed.

The voice of denial in any foul practice sounds familiar. We heard it nearly two years ago when the first group of parents disclosed to the media that their children had died of kidney stones after drinking Sanlu brand milk formula. A lesson learned from that incident is that we must not believe in any story of innocence when the lives of our children are concerned. We cannot afford to let the Shanxi parents' pleas for help and a thorough and independent investigation go unheeded. For this will constitute a smear on our collective conscience.

Another saddening fact reflected in this incident is the low efficiency and even dysfunction of the massive administrative and judicial systems to right wrongs and protect the weak and the vulnerable. For a long time the parents of victimized children have been basically left to their own devices on their tortuous quest for justice. If not for a brave newspaper, China Economic Times, which published the story, they would still be struggling in obscurity to try to find the truth behind the sufferings of their loved ones.

The vaccine incident is not an individual case that concerns just hundreds of families in Shanxi. It has a bearing on every one of us. If one child's life is threatened, the security of all children in this country is diminished. We must stand up together to make sure nothing less than the truth is found in this incident.