Shanghai desperately needs more children-friendly toilets
It was recently reported that a mother at a Minhang district shopping mall lost her 3-year-old son after ducking into a women-only toilet. When she came back out, the boy was gone. Mall security immediately locked down the entire venue and examined surveillance video to help track down the toddler, which revealed that he had left the mall on his own, then borrowed a stranger’s mobile to call his grandmother to come pick him up. All this occurred in the brief time it took the mother to relieve herself.
Media didn’t disclose if the mother said why she dared let her little boy out of her sight, but my guess as a fellow mom is that there were no unisex facilities available to take her son in with her, so she took the chance to leave him unattended. By 2016, Shanghai had only 215 unisex (also known as “accessible”) public toilets, which considering the city’s large geography and dense population, is way too few.
I myself have encountered similar dilemmas when going out with my 5-year-old son. When I need to use a public women’s toilet, I must make him stand outside the doorway, then constantly call out his name as I am peeing to make sure he is still there. I must also send him into a men’s bathroom alone while I wait out in front.
Once, at a public hospital, he had to go pee, but the men’s urinals were too high for him. I was forced to ask a stranger walking in to lift my son up and help him, which he kindly agreed to but left all parties involved feeling uncomfortable.
Having recently given birth to my second child, I’m also quickly realizing that this city lacks breastfeeding/diaper-changing stations. The few that exist in some local malls and parks are so unsanitary that I dare not place my infant down on the changing table. I’m not alone in this complaint, with countless other mothers expressing on social media their disappointment with “mother-unfriendly” Shanghai.
This city has achieved unprecedented economic success and massive modernization over the past decade, now rivaling other global metropolitan cities such as New York and London. But from the perspective of an ordinary, workingclass resident, Shanghai still has a lot of work to do before it can catch up with its international counterparts. It’s as if our local leaders forgot that the city is home to a large population of blue-collar citizens who rely on public facilities.
If Shanghai really hopes to emulate foreign cities like Paris and Tokyo – where many of my Chinese friends have brought along their children to travel and report an abundance of clean, well-equipped mother-and-child-friendly toilets – then our leaders should try allocating more funds for on-the-ground infrastructure that families living here depend on.
To Shanghai’s credit, it has taken the first steps toward providing more unisex facilities. In 2013, Chen Yijun, a deputy director with the City Appearance and Environment Quality Monitoring Center, told the Oriental Morning Post that unisex toilets would eventually make up 25 to 30 percent of all public toilets in downtown Shanghai. In November Shanghai made an even bolder experiment with its first-ever “mixed gender” toilet facility, which allows men and women in together at the exact same time.
Recent reports declared the mixed-gender trial “a failure” due to not receiving enough users, which can be attributed to the toilet’s remote location and low public awareness. Thus, the city announced that it has canceled plans to install any additional such toilets in the near future.
This is terrible timing and terribly inconsistent with the new two-child policy that the central government has been promoting since going into effect last year. Instead of canceling family-friendly facilities, local government should be slotting an even larger portion of its budgets to making life easier for anyone raising a child here. The first step, then, is to accommodate one of the most basic functions of human beings – going to the bathroom.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.