A teenage father who left his eight-month-old daughter brain-damaged and partially paralysed after repeatedly punching her for crying was spared a jail term yesterday. District Court judge Maggie Poon Man-kay told 19-year-old Lai Wing-wai that if he had been more mature she would have jailed him for 3.5 years but that she was giving him a chance to reform. She sent him for counselling and vocational education at a training centre, where the term is not fixed and can be as little as six months and up to three years, according to inmates' progress, followed by three years of supervision. Anger at the sentence caused Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, director of the pressure group Against Child Abuse, to question the judge's decision last night, saying a child's interests should always come before those of abusers. 'At what age should a man be considered mature?' she asked. 'An 18-year-old is sufficiently old to be responsible for his own conduct. It's he who decided to have the little girl. While his welfare should be looked after, what about his daughter's?' Lai, a waiter, pleaded guilty on July 19 before Judge Poon to one count of cruelty to a child. A similar charge against his wife, Yip Ka-yee, 19, was dropped when the prosecution decided to offer no evidence against her. Prosecutor Petrus Chan told the court the baby girl was admitted to Tuen Mun Hospital in the afternoon of June 3 last year. Doctors in the emergency unit found she had a blood clot on the brain, bruises all over her body and a broken left arm. She was admitted to the intensive care unit and had to spend nine days on a ventilator. Both the girl - now 21 months old - and her nine-month-old brother, born after the incident, are in the care of foster parents. Defence counsel Jimmy Kwong told the court Lai had been jobless and under great pressure from his family when he hit his daughter, who had been crying early in the morning. He was deeply remorseful for what he had done, Mr Kwong said, asking the court to impose a community service order. But while Judge Poon accepted Lai's attack on his daughter was an isolated incident caused by his emotional stress, she said community service would send the wrong signal to the public. 'Members of the public obviously would object to adults venting their grievances on to helpless children. The sentence imposed must reflect the public's disapproval of such behaviour. I am told the girl will suffer physical and psychological disability permanently due to that attack. Her intelligence growth has been impaired. The accused has deprived her of a normal and healthy upbringing,' the judge said.