Malaysia's conservative Islamic party has urged Muslim men to marry single mothers as additional wives instead of "young virgin girls", a state official said.
Wan Ubaidah Omar, a cabinet minister from northern Kelantan, which the party controls, said the proposal aired in state parliament this week was needed to help single mothers and widows in the underdeveloped region.
"Muslim men usually like young girls or virgins as their additional wives, so I suggest instead of taking these young virgin girls, why don't they marry the single mothers as their second or third wife?" she told AFP.
"This will ease the burden of the single mothers as the men can help them to take care of their children. The single ladies have no burden," said Wan Ubaidah, who is in charge of women, family and health affairs in the state.
Muslim men in Malaysia are allowed to marry up to four women but Islamic courts must approve multiple marriages before they take place. About 60 percent of the country's 27 million population are Muslims.
Women's groups here have campaigned against polygamy, saying it is cruel and has deviated from its original purpose in Islam, which was to protect widows and orphans.
Wan Ubaidah said her call was not meant to encourage polygamous marriage, but as a way to help at least 16,500 single mothers aged under 60 in Kelantan, a state that has one of the highest divorce rates in the country.
"Even if I don't make the suggestion, these men are going to marry the second, third wife anyway but I have to emphasize that under Islam, only those who have the social and economic capacity can have additional wives," she said.
The minister also called for husbands who leave their wives without good reason to be whipped under religious laws.
"Some of these husbands just go missing in action suddenly, and leave the wives without any food or money. These kind of men should be whipped, they deserve it," Wan Ubaidah said.
"This punishment is not in the state sharia law at the moment, but we can make it a law to make men more responsible; there is a lot of room for improvement in the legal system to protect the welfare of women," she added.
Muslim men usually like young girls or virgins as their additional wives, so I suggest instead of taking these young virgin girls, why don't they marry the single mothers as their second or third wife?
Wan Ubaidah Omar, cabinet minister