08/30/2013 11:27 EDT | Updated 10/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Boy peeing in B.C. mall trash bin photo sparks online debate

A photo circulating on social media showing an Asian woman holding a young boy urinating into a garbage bin at a Richmond, B.C., mall has sparked a debate on public etiquette, cultural norms and parenting.

A flurry of responses has erupted on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and message forums around the world. As well, the mall has said it plans to look at ways to prevent such actions.

Richmond Centre mall said in an emailed statement to CBC News: "Given that we have these facilities throughout the common areas of the mall, we don't have any formal regulation or signage warning customers not to urinate, defecate or expectorate on the property. We are currently looking at this matter and ways to prevent similar occurrences in the future."

Social media users, meanwhile, have been poking fun at the image..

"#why would you let your child pee in the mall bins? They have toilets," says a tweet by DonMunnu.

"If kids get to pee in garbage cans in the mall then I see know reason why I can't," says another tweet, from MentalityMagazine.

Common practice in China?

Many forums also held questionable debates about immigrant behaviour and Chinese cultural norms. Social media users, including many who identified themselves as being of Chinese heritage, said they believed the woman and child in the photo were Chinese.

"I knew they were Asian before I even clicked the link. This is a fairly common occurrence in China," wrote Reddit user LaunchThePolaris.

In many parts of rural China, the practice of young children going to the bathroom in public is deemed as widespread, with toddlers and babies wearing pants with slits rather than diapers, said Jonathan Manthorpe, a foreign correspondent who has lived and worked in the country.

"A few years ago, they were living very rough lives of peasants. I'm sure all of your viewers who have travelled in rural China will see, as I have seen, in many places that the standards of toilets is very different," Manthorpe told CBC News.

But Queenie Choo, CEO for SUCCESS, a Vancouver immigrant group, disagreed.

"I have travelled to China and I don't think there is common practice in any city that I have observed."

Some readers argued urinating in public is not an Asian or Chinese issue alone.

"I've seen tons of Caucasian adults peeing everywhere. Never an Asian (yet). This is fairly commonplace in Asia though so while I agree its deplorable, its not like this an ingrained Chinese thing," wrote one reader in response to the Vancity Buzz post.

Parenting practices questioned

Others turned the debate into an issue about parenting.

Another Vancity Buzz reader wrote: "why don't we turn this around into a positive. A little boy needed to pee and better than him wetting his pants or the ground you walk on. At least he went into a lined container!!! When little children need to go they really need to go."

Miranda Chiasson, a mother in Mission, B.C., told CBC News there is also a growing trend in North America to practise what's called "elimination communication" with infants and toddlers — instead of using diapers, parents learn to read the cues their child needs to use the bathroom, and respond.

"I would say that scene is a mother practising elimination communication with her child," she said.

"He's signalled to her, cued to her, let her know in some way that he needs to pee right now. And she's seen that there's not really a park or a grassy place to take him so she's taken the best advantage of what's around her."