LILONGWE, Malawi (AP) -- A Malawian judge could rule Friday on Madonna's request to adopt a second child from the impoverished southern African country amid criticism from some activists who say the little girl would be best off with relatives in Malawi.

The 50-year-old pop superstar is expected to return home Saturday with Chifundo "Mercy" James, who is about 4 years old, if the application is granted.

On the eve of the judge's ruling, Madonna got an endorsement from Malawi's child welfare minister.

"We have close to 2 million orphans in Malawi who need help," Women and Child Welfare Development Minister Anna Kachikho told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We can't look after all of them as a country. If people like Madonna adopt even one such orphan, it's one mouth less we have to feed."

Madonna says she has followed standard procedures in the child's adoption even as critics have accused her of using her fame and money to fast-track the process. She faced similar allegations in 2006 when she brought home her adopted son David, who is now 3.

Malawian regulations stipulate that prospective parents reside in the country for 18 to 24 months, during which time welfare officials assess their suitability — a rule that was bent when Madonna was allowed to take David to London before his adoption was finalized.

A coalition of non-governmental organizations called the Human Rights Consultative Committee has criticized Madonna's adoption attempts, saying adoption should be a last resort and that children need to be taken care of by their own families.

"Mercy James is a child who has her extended close family members alive," a statement from the coalition said earlier this week.

Mercy's 18-year-old mother was unmarried and died soon after she gave birth, according to the child's uncle, John Ngalande. Her father is believed to be alive but has little contact with his daughter, he said.

Others have said the adoption would give enormous opportunities to the child that she would never have in the impoverished country, where 14 percent of adults are infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

Madonna first traveled to Malawi in 2006 while filming a documentary about the country's devastating poverty and AIDS crisis.

On the current trip, Madonna has been accompanied by her three children: 3-year-old son David, 12-year-old daughter Lourdes and 8-year-old son Rocco. The four visited an orphanage where David once lived and David also spent time with his biological father for the first time since he left Malawi in 2006.