• Police rescued 46 victims between the age of 16 months and 15 years
  • Sixteen of the victims were from a child-care center
  • A child-care worker and a children’s soccer coach were among the arrested

With a tip-off from U.S. officials, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) smashed an online global pedophile ring in a large-scale operation. A total of 46 victims, 16 of whom were from a child-care center, were rescued, while 14 men were arrested, BBC reported.

The year-long investigation, dubbed "Operation Arkstone," led to the arrest. It began in February, when The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation received a report from the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This report about an online user allegedly uploading child abuse material was the tipoff that sparked the probe.

The initial investigation led to the arrest of a 30-year-old man from the town of Wyong, North of Sydney, in the same month. He was charged with 89 counts of child abuse, including alleged contact offending of two children. This arrest led to the discovery of the global online pedophile network with links to the U.S., Canada, Asia, Europe and New Zealand.

With the help of confiscated electronic devices from the man's arrest, the authorities discovered social media forums where members were accessing and circulating child abuse material. "Evidence gathering at each arrest led to the unraveling of this alleged online network – each warrant led to the discovery of more alleged offenders and more children to be saved from ongoing abuse," the AFP said in their official statement.

The AFP reported that perpetrators ranged in age from 20 to 48 years, with an average age of 28 years. Among them were a child care worker, a volunteer soccer coach, a disability support worker, an electrician, a supermarket employee and a chef. The pedophile ring used both the regular internet and the dark web to share materials. 

The 14 men arrested faced a total of 828 child exploitation charges as well as bestiality charges involving four animals.

swing-1365713_640 The victims included 16 children from a child care center. Photo: pixabay

A 27-year-old former child-care worker faces 303 charges and is accused of abusing 30 children. He has been charged with multiple counts of contact offending, including sexual intercourse with a child under 10, SBS News reported. According to the police, he used his job and other deceptive means to gain access to 30 children. He has reportedly shared them with his partner, who also abused them. The police confirmed that the parents and caregivers of all children enrolled in the child-care center were notified of the investigation.

The victims ranged in age from 16 months to 15 years, with an average age of 8 years.

Operation Arkstone has so far made 146 international referrals, 18 of which led to the arrest of three men in the U.S., ABC News reported.

"No child should be subjected to abuse and violence from the people they trust, whether that is a family member, a childcare worker or a soccer coach," Justine Gough, Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner, said.

In a similar incident last month, an investigation dubbed "Operation Molto" saved 16 children and prosecuted 44 men in Australia. The confiscated child abuse materials from the offenders included a horrific video of a pervert raping an 18-month-old.