The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said on Monday that a two-year international investigation into a website where users pay for child abuse material has lead to the arrest of 16 people in the country.
Authorities were also able to remove four Australian children from further harm, reports Xinhua news agency.
The investigation was initiated by US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), who provided information to international police and child protection organisations.
HSI uncovered an illicit marketplace where users paid for access to child abuse material, and were able to provide user data leading to arrests in several countries including the US and Australia.
Acting on the information, Australian police executed 18 search warrants, arresting 16 people on 738 charges and removing four children.
HSI Australia Attache Adam Parks said the current COVID-19 pandemic may place children at even higher risk.
“More so than ever, children are increasingly online for their schooling, to socialize with their friends and family, and to play games,” Parks said.
“Let this be a warning that law enforcement is undeterred by COVID-19 and remains on-duty to keep our children safe in Australia, the US, and online.”
Victoria Police Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team manager Detective Acting Inspector Karen Bennett said perpetrators continued to act via extensive online networks, regardless of the considerable harm inflicted on victims.
“These crimes see people using significant established networks to share child abuse material and take advantage of vulnerable children. They have devastating impacts for victims and the wider community,” Bennett said.
“Victoria Police will continue working closely with partner agencies to address this considerable issue both in Australia and overseas.”