Forty people are facing prosecution after police raids in west and central Africa rescued nearly 500 victims of human trafficking , including a 16 – year -old Nigerian girl , Interpol said on Thursday .

Raids were carried out in Chad, Mali , Mauritania , Niger and Senegal as part of a German foreign ministry funded initiative targeting organised crime in the region.

Of the nearly 500 people rescued, 236 were children , Interpol said in an emailed statement . The operation happened between November 6 and 10, it added later .

Those arrested are accused of forcing their victims into begging and prostitution and face charges including human trafficking , forced labour and child exploitation .

In one case , a 16- year – old Nigerian girl was duped into thinking she would be working in Mali but was instead made to go into sex work to pay back her travel costs to a “ sponsor ”.

Police inspector Yoro Traore, from Interpol in Mali ’ s capital , Bamako, said the operation — codenamed Epervier or Sparrowhawk — had been effective .

“This operation has opened a number of ongoing investigations to further disrupt the crime networks involved in trafficking human beings , ” he said .

Focus in recent years has largely been on the west Africans trying to reach Europe via the treacherous route on the Mediterranean Sea .

Most are undocumented migrants seeking to flee poverty . But the same factors see migration between countries in west and central Africa .

Organised crime groups also take advantage of desperation to earn, as well as porous borders and ease of travel between members states of the regional bloc ECOWAS.