The sound of giggling fills a room at Kodomo no Ie, a children's institution in northern Tokyo, as a group of half a dozen girls work on their homework while waiting for dinner to be served. It's the same situation that is typically played out in homes across the country, except these are no ordinary children. Some of them are lucky to be alive.

"I've seen children that have been brought to Kodomo no Ie that could have died if left in their homes a little longer," says Satoshi Hayakawa, director of the facility. There are 40 children between the age of 3 and 19 years old currently living at the home, Hayakawa says, adding that almost all of them have suffered some sort of abuse.

An estimated 30,000 children live in 599 foster homes nationwide, according to statistics from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. Abuse or neglect is the principal reason for most children being placed under protective care, according to ministry data from 2008.