Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Some 500 victims, including 236 minors, have been rescued in a human-trafficking bust led by Interpol in Africa.
The mission was carried out over five days simultaneously in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. Police arrested 40 suspected traffickers.
"In addition to arrests, this operation has opened a number of ongoing investigations to further disrupt the crime networks involved in trafficking in human beings, emphasizing the effectiveness of such operations via [Interpol's] international network," Yoro Traore, police inspector with the Interpol National Central Bureau in Bamako, Mali, said in a news release.
The mission was dubbed Operation Epervier and was organized under the Sahel Project, an initiative investigating organized crime in the Sahel region of northwest Africa. The German Foreign Office funded the initiative.
Traffickers arrested during this month's operation are accused of forcing humans into labor. Some victims were forced to beg on the streets, while others were forced into prostitution.
One 15-year-old female was intercepted by police before traffickers could sell her into forced labor. The teenager was found with just a trash bag full of her possessions.
Another 16-year-old female was promised paid work to support her family, but was forced into prostitution.
"The results of this operation underline the challenge faced by law enforcement and all stakeholders in addressing human trafficking in the Sahel region," said Innocentia Apovo, criminal intelligence officer with Interpol's Trafficking in Human Beings Unit.
European and African authorities have been working to ramp up coordinate investigations of human trafficking and other forms of organized crime.
Early this month, France called on the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to address allegations of slave markets operating in Libya.
The advocacy group Human Rights First estimates that there are 24.9 million victims trapped in the modern slave trade. The majority of these victims are forced into labor or the sex trade.