On November 20, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) announced the arrest of several criminals who were part of a vast international pedophile ring located in different countries worldwide for distributing images and videos of sexual abuse of children under 14 years of age on the Internet.

The Print reported that the CBI arrested nine criminals in an operation that involved raids in 77 locations in 13 Indian states after uncovering the criminal activity on social networking and information hosting platforms.

The major criminal network consists of 50 groups with over 5,000 members spread across more than 100 countries around the world, including Pakistan, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Ghana, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Yemen, Malaysia, and Indonesia, among others.

Authorities accused the criminals of making money by selling photos, videos, links, social media posts of children being sexually abused. Some of the individuals were also the perpetrators of such heinous crimes.

One of the CBI’s departments in charge of child abuse prevention on the Internet discovered the criminal activity in August this year and triggered the investigation.

Investigators followed the money trail in e-wallets and bank accounts to catch the criminals.

The amount of money involved in the case is still under investigation, but it was confirmed that much of it is in foreign currency.

The investigation culminated on November 14 with multiple raids in different locations in India, including Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh, in addition to Delhi.

Authorities seized dozens of laptops, cell phones, and other electronic devices. They filed 23 cases charging more than 80 people and arrested nine others, all on charges of uploading, storing, and watching images and videos of children being sexually abused.

Describing the seized material, the CBI source said, “Thirty-six of the phone numbers identified have been detected in Pakistan, 35 in Canada and the UK, 31 in Bangladesh, 30 in Sri Lanka, 28 in Nigeria, 27 in Azerbaijan, 24 in Yemen, and 22 in Malaysia.”

The Indian Bureau confirmed that it is working with law enforcement agencies in the other countries involved in the network and will seek to hold social networking and storage services accountable for complicity in these crimes.

The report did not name the social networks or the companies that allowed the indecent material to be hosted.

Through the investigation, local authorities concluded that the market for pedophile criminals is considerably large in India.

“According to Interpol, an estimated 2.4 million searches were made for online child abuse content in India between 2017 and 2020, and 80 per cent of the children were girls under the age of 14. The content and consumers of child pornography are growing at a fast rate. One finding shows that search engines get over 1,16,000 queries related to child pornography every day,” the source said.

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