PARIS — Police in five African countries arrested 40 suspected human traffickers and rescued hundreds of victims — including 236 minors — in an exceptionally large-scale Interpol-led operation. Unusually, most of the suspects are women.

The traffickers lured vulnerable girls and young women into prostitution networks. Other victims were impoverished children whose parents handed them over to people promising them a better life. Instead, they were forced to beg in the streets and deprived of food or clean water or otherwise abused if they didn’t bring in enough money, Interpol said.

When they were rescued, “some hadn’t taken a shower for two months,” Interpol criminal intelligence officer Innocentia Apovo, who coordinated the operation, told The Associated Press.

The suspected traffickers had “little to no regard for working conditions or human life,” France-based Interpol said in a statement.

The police operation Nov. 6-10 was carried out simultaneously in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.

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