Authorities in Niger rescued 232 victims of sex trafficking and forced labor. Among the victims were girls as young as 10.
Interpol said that a total of 46 children were among those rescued in a major police operation in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, in addition to 180 Ghanaian men who had been promised work only to later be enslaved.
The children were mostly from Niger; 37 girls aged between 10 and 17 were forced into sex work, others were reportedly taken from their families and forced to beg for money. Interpol added that the men from Ghana had been recruited by people smugglers online; they were baited with the promise of "decent work", said Interpol.
"Operation Sarraounia" involved more than 100 police officers who conducted a series of raids over 10 days in late January, the international police organization added.
Local police also arrested 18 suspected traffickers.
Interpol: operation was a success
"Operation Sarraounia has shed much light on several criminal groups and trafficking routes," said Barka Dankassoua, head of the Interpol National Central Bureau in Niamey. "The skills our officers have learned will be put to good use as we follow up on a number of leads."
Niger is a key country of transit for many migrants, with human traffickers moving thousands of people through the African nation on their way to North Africa and Europe.
"We have to remember the families that they thought they were going to support by finding employment – and then suddenly they were enslaved," Stephen Kavanagh, Interpol's executive director of police services, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
More work needed
In 2019, Niger increased trafficking convictions and recruited additional law enforcement officers in a bid to clamp down on people smugglers. However, the African nation still fails to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, according to standards set by the US government. It falls short, for example, in providing victims' access to justice.
With material from the Thomson Reuters Foundation