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These boys risk lives for scrap metal

Everything happening at Mukuru Kwa Reuben is usual. Nothing is abnormal. Not even the boys diving into the water ferrying a cocktail of sewerage and solid waste in the Ngong River canal.

The canal, which passes through the slum acts as a barrier between it and the middleclass estate of South C.

The barefoot boys as young as seven get into the water, armed with a magnetic dome mounted on a bar, which they use to gather metals swept by the waters from neighbouring estates.

Eight-year-old Elias Mutinda’s mother, Josephine Ndanu, says the boys are safe. They cannot drown, she confidently adds.

“He has been diving into the water for the past three years. He will be fine,” Ndanu assures us.

True to her words, Elias and his friends fish out a few small metallic objects from the water. The boys however report that the day has not been good. All they managed to collect are bottle tops, nails and pins.

The more than 15 boys say this is their daily routine. They usually collect a large enough pile of metals and sell it to a middleman who in turn sells it to a company linked to Embakasi South Member of Parliament Irshad Sumra.

Mr Sumra is the secretary general of Kenya Iron and Scrap Metal Association.

Mr Sumra said he was not aware of the activities, adding that scrap metal is usually taken to his company by grown-ups who are registered with his company.

“Now that we are on holiday, we have to make a little money for ourselves. It is better than playing,” Mutinda says.

He notes that together with his three friends, they fill one two-kilogramme tin with scrap metal after three days of non-stop searching.

For a full tin, which they call gorogoro, they make between 5h75 to Sh90, depending on the weight of the metals.

The middleman has to weigh their catch before buying it. With the money they get, they buy snacks, books, shoes and even clothes.

Another boy, James Kyalo, says many children sacrifice play time to fish for the ‘precious metals.’

“Here, you grow with the knowledge that metals have to be removed from the water and sold. After all, all the children do it, and you will not have someone to play with if you do not come to the canal,” he says.

James Kariuki, a Public Health Officer at Mukuru kwa Reuben Clinic, James Kariuki says the water in the canal poses a health risk to the children.

“They are at a risk of contracting waterborne diseases because the water is heavily polluted with a high concentration of metals,” Mr Kariuki said.

The children say they are often hurt by sharp objects in the water and their feet are used to wounds that most of the time become septic.