By Umberto Bacchi
TBILISI, Sept 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police in Georgia have dismantled a child-trafficking ring that exploited girls as young as 8 to produce pornography and arrested 11 people, authorities said on Thursday.
Georgia said the joint operation with Europol and U.S. and Australian law enforcement agencies was the biggest of its kind to date in the former Soviet republic.
Among those arrested were the parents of some of the up to 10 girls involved, who police said were paid between 500 and 3,000 lari ($170 to $1,000) for photographing them. One American and one Australian citizen were also arrested.
"The disruption of this syndicate will have a significant effect on the production and distribution of child exploitation material both in Georgia and internationally," said Wendy Rix of the Australian Federal Police at a press conference in Tbilisi.
If found guilty on charges of child trafficking and producing and selling child pornography, the suspects could face life in jail, the interior ministry said.
The girls involved, aged between 8 and 14, were receiving counselling, it added.
The head of anti-trafficking group ECPAT-USA said the ease with which global networks could operate had created an "invisible crisis", calling for urgent international action.
"International networks are taking advantage of vulnerable families, using young people, taking pictures of their sexual abuse and sharing or selling the images around the world," said Carol Smolenski.
"Since the creation of the digital camera and the internet, a problem that was small and controllable has exploded ... It is an invisible crisis that every government and every citizen must start to grapple with."
($1 = 2.9550 laris)
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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