By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indian police have raided brothels guarded by dogs in the southern state of Telangana, arresting 35 people on charges of sex trafficking girls as young as 13, investigators said on Monday.
Thirty women and girls were rescued in the overnight raids on March 1 and 2 in Medak district, in what police described as a "breakthrough" in cracking sex trafficking networks.
"The brothels were guarded by big dogs, including Great Danes and Dobermans, making access very difficult," Soumya Mishra of the Telangana criminal investigations department.
"It took us two months to set up the operations as the brothel keepers had hired young boys to patrol the neighbourhood on bikes and tip them off on police raids."
Of an estimated 20 million sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to non-governmental organisations working in the country.
In Telangana, over 500 cases of sex trafficking were registered between 2015 and 2016, and nearly 600 traffickers arrested, Mishra told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Last week's raids have raised concerns over the number of young girls from poor economic backgrounds and broken homes being trapped in the trade, campaigners said.
The illegal brothels were being run from 35 houses in the Japthi Shivnoor village, with the owners living on the premises and the trafficked women housed in cramped rooms and forced to take on up to 10 clients a day.
The traffickers charged around 500 rupees ($7) for 10 minutes, but did not pay the victims any money, police said.
"During the raids we found lots of unused condoms hidden in rice sacks and also seized over 400,000 rupees ($6,000) in cash," Mishra said.
"If we hadn't raided the brothels, one of the girls who was very sick when we found her would have died," she said.
The suspects, including a woman thought to be the kingpin of the operation, have been charged under anti-trafficking laws.
($1 = 66.75000 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)