Young girls found confined in a home in Yadagirigutta, 70 km from Hyderabad, some wearing school uniforms, have led the police to uncover a horrifying racket in which children were injected with hormones and sold for sex.
Eight traffickers, including six women, have been arrested.
Eleven girls, four of them below seven, were rescued by a team that raided a colony infamous for its brothels, following a tip-off.
"The traffickers either bought the children, from poor families, through agents, by paying them between Rs one lakh to Rs two lakh for each girl," said Rachakonda police commissioner Mahesh M Bhagwat.
The gang would also scout for young girls at railway platforms, perhaps those who had run away from home. The younger the girl, the greater the price she would fetch, the traffickers have told the police.
What is most frightening is that the girls were given hormonal injections to have them ready for commercial sexual exploitation at the earliest. A doctor identified as Swamy, who was allegedly paid Rs 20-25,000 to administer the injections has been tracked down, the police say.
"We are going to arrest the doctor as well. The new anti-trafficking law also has provisions for that,'' said Mahesh Bhagwat.
The police stumbled upon the racket after a 8-year-old child ran out of her home after being physically abused by a woman she called mother. Kalyani initially claimed she had given birth to the child but on questioning by officials, she was not able to share details of when and where. She subsequently admitted she had bought the child.
"It is not just me. Many others here have bought young girls,'' she reportedly said, leading to the rescue of other children, all minor girls.
The so-called mothers had got the children admitted to a neighbourhood school, registering the children as their own so no one would suspect anything unusual in the neighbourhood. The accused have claimed a child trafficker, Shankar, had sold them the children.
Another kingpin appears to be Yadagiri. "He bought children for one lakh to three lakh rupees,'' Mr Bhagwat said.
"Our teams got information about five girls confined in a room in Yadagirigutta. We went in to check and found three of those girls in school uniform. Questioning revealed that they were being confined in the name of being relatives and used for commercial sexual exploitation," the police said.