Maid abuse draws 18-year sentence (Al Jezeera News)

Nirmala's abuse four years ago is the worst-ever reported case in the country [AFP]

A Malaysian mother of four has been sentenced to 18 years in jail for abusing her Indonesian domestic worker.

Judge Akhtar Tahir sentenced Yim Pek Ha, 40, on Thursday after she was found guilty of inflicting horrific wounds on Nirmala Bonat, who was working for her in a Kuala Lumpur condominium in 2004.

"Nirmala Bonat has been consistent in her statements that her lady boss injured her, from the time she was found by a security guard," said the judge when passing the sentence.

Yim, a former flight attendant, was charged on three counts of causing injury to Nirmala, and had faced prison sentences of up to 20 years on each count.

Nirmala, who was then 19, suffered severe burns and bruises over much of her body after Yim repeatedly pressed a hot iron on her back and breasts and scalded her with boiling water in the worst-ever case of maid abuse reported in the country.

'Sadistic behaviour'

Rejecting Yim's defence that the injuries were self-inflicted, the judge said he wanted to impose a "deterrent sentence" to show that "sadistic behaviour cannot be tolerated in civil society".

"This will serve as a deterrent to future cases"

Eka Suripto, Indonesian diplomat in Kuala Lumpur

Jagjit Singh, Yim's lawyer, said he would appeal against the sentence which he described as "excessive" because there was "no loss of life, no disfigurement, no scars".

The case sparked national outrage that focused attention on the plight of migrant domestic workers following photographs published in Malaysian newspapers in 2004 of Nirmala's injuries.

Nirmala said she was beaten and burned for mistakes she made during her five months in Yim's home.

She said that on one occasion her employer took a hot iron and pressed it against her breasts after complaining that clothes had not been properly ironed.

Nirmala has since left Malaysia.

Abuse of Indonesian maids in Malaysia have sparked protests in Jakarta [EPA]
Indonesia, which has asked Malaysia to do more to protect its workers in the country, said it was pleased with the ruling.

"This will serve as a deterrent to future cases," said Eka Suripto, an Indonesian diplomat in Kuala Lumpur.

Indonesian diplomats say at least 1,500 maids seek help at their offices across Malaysia each year, most of them complaining of unpaid wages but some reporting physical abuse.

Nirmala's plight even drew the attention of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, and led to street protests outside the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta.

Malaysia is home to up to two million foreign workers, mostly Indonesians who often take up jobs as domestic helpers, construction workers and plantation labourers.