WASHINGTON (AFP) - Law enforcement officials rescued 149 minors, including one as young as 12, from US pimps in a nationwide crackdown on human trafficking, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said.
"When kids are treated as a commodity in seedy hotels and on dark roadsides, we must rescue them from their nightmare and severely punish those responsible for that horror," FBI director James Comey said in a statement.
Comey vowed to "end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country" and praised local law enforcement agencies in 135 cities who helped conduct sweeps in hotels, casinos, truck stops and other areas frequented by sex-traffickers and their customers.
The Innocence Lost programme has rescued 4,800 sexually exploited children and obtained convictions against more than 2,000 pimps since its creation in 2003.
Nearly 100 victims services specialists participated in this year's sweep - the largest so far - to help tend to the needs of the exploited children.
This year's sweep - dubbed Operation Cross Country - also led to the arrest of 153 pimps.
There were three males and three transgender minors among the 149 victims.
"Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation," said Attorney-General Loretta Lynch, in the FBI statement released on Tuesday.
"As a result of the FBI's outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight, and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system."