BUCKS COUNTY, PA — U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement agencies in Philadelphia and Bucks County say they recovered 16 missing children during a month-long operation, including four believed to be involved in sex trafficking.
Announced Thursday, Operation Safeguard was a multi-agency operation focused on human trafficking and “the location and recovery of critically missing and exploited children,” according to the marshals service.
The operation focused on 26 missing-child cases in the area, with six of them believed to be related to child sex trafficking, authorities said. Over four weeks, 16 children were “recovered at the request of law enforcement to ensure the child’s well-being,” the marshals service said.
Four of those children are involved in active child sex-trafficking investigations, according to the service.
A news release Thursday morning did not specify how many of the children were found in Bucks County, Philadelphia or elsewhere. A Bucks County law enforcement spokesman did not immediately reply to a message from Patch early Thursday.
“I applaud the exceptional cooperation among our respective agencies in combating this most abhorrent affront to society,” said Eric Gartner, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “Our hope is for a better future for the 16 children we recovered. Our resolve remains steadfast in finding other children in peril.”
Agencies involved in the operation, which ran from Feb. 15-March 15, included the marshals service the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Philadelphia Department of Hunan Services, Bucks County Children Youth Services, the Philadelphia Police Department’s human trafficking unit and the FBI.
According to authorities, the children targeted in the operation were considered some of the most at-risk and challenging cases in the area, based on factors including sex trafficking, child exploitation, sexual or physical abuse and medical and mental-health conditions.
The U.S. Marshals Service created a missing-child unit after Congress passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which enhanced the agency’s authority in such cases. Since 2015, the marshals service has recovered more than 1,700 missing children.
The U.S. Marshals Eastern District of Pennsylvania Fugitive Task Force is made up of law enforcement officers led by Deputy U.S. Marshals in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties.
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