The police in Uttar Pradesh’s Deoria city on Sunday rescued 24 girls from a shelter home, and arrested the managers of the institution on trafficking allegations. Eighteen other girls are missing from the shelter home, News18 reported.

The state’s Women and Child Welfare Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi said the government had sent a two-member committee to investigate the matter. She said action would be taken after the panel submits its report. The state government has ordered Etah District Magistrate Amit Kishore to take over from Deoria District Magistrate Sujit Kumar, ANI reported.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath also summoned Women and Child Welfare Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi for the matter, News18 reported. Inspector General Praveen Kumar said the girls were sent for medical examinations, ANI reported.

A 10-year-old girl who managed to escape the Deoria shelter home told the police that several people in black and white cars would arrive after 4 pm, and take the inmates from “madam”. The girls would return crying late at night.

“The names of 42 girls are registered in the list of a non-governmental organisation named Vindhavashini Women and Girl Child Protection House, but only 24 girls were found on the spot in the raid,” Superintendent of Police Rohan P Kanai said. “There was a complaint about this shelter home for women for a long time.”

Kanai said the manager of the shelter home Girija Tripathi and her husband Mohan were arrested after they could not give satisfactory answers as to the whereabouts of the missing girls. “A case has been registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code related to human trafficking, flesh trade and child labour,” said Kanai.

The licence of the shelter home was revoked in 2007 after investigations, but it continued to operate after getting a stay order from the Allahabad High Court, News18 reported. Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police OP Singh said the Deoria superintendent of police has been asked to take “strict action” against the culprits.

The news comes weeks after at least 34 girls were allegedly raped at a shelter in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. The Bihar Police also excavated the ground at the institution to look for the body of a girl allegedly buried there. Ten of the 11 accused have been arrested so far.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said that incidents of sexual assault at shelter homes, including the one in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, made her “sad”, reported ANI. “I know there will be many more because for years and years, we have paid no attention, apart from giving them money.”

Promising immediate action, Gandhi proposed that MPs visit such institutions in their constituencies and submit their reports to her. “A long-term solution is to make large homes for a thousand women and a thousand children, with all-women staff rather than small centres,” she said.