Malaysian police said Tuesday they have busted a sex slave ring and rescued 21 Ugandan women who were forced into prostitution after being lured to Malaysia with promises of jobs as maids.
Criminal investigation chief Bakri Zinin said in a statement that police found the women, aged between 19 and 42, holed up in four apartment units in central Selangor state during a raid on Friday.
He said three Ugandans _ two women believed to be pimps and a man suspected of being a customer _ were detained.
Initial investigations showed the 21 women were promised jobs as maids in homes and hotels with a salary of $1,000 a month, but instead forced to become "sex slaves" to pay off travel fees and other costs totaling $7,000, he said.
The women were brought into the country via China, and were threatened verbally and physically to stop them from running away, the statement added.
A police official said Tuesday that investigations were focused on how long the ring had been in operation and who the masterminds were. The official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the women have been temporarily placed in a welfare home and would be deported later.
It was not immediately clear what charges the three detained Ugandans would face, but human trafficking in Malaysia is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
This Southeast Asian nation has constantly been under the spotlight for human trafficking.
In 2009, it was placed on the U.S. list of countries with worst human trafficking records for a third time _ meaning it faced possible sanctions unless its record improved. Last year, Malaysia was upgraded to a "watch list" after authorities stepped up efforts to combat the sexual and forced labor exploitation of women and children.