The possession of small arms carries high symbolic value among youth in many societies, with associations of individual or group pride, empowerment, masculinity, belonging to a group, status and recognition, or wealth. There are often considerable gender differences in both attitudes to and use of small arms. While girls may be less likely to use and own weapons, in keeping with societal ideas about appropriately feminine behaviour, many boys are caught up in stereotypical images of masculinity that emphasize brutality and strength, and are fascinated by military-related ideas and behaviours. Fictional images presented by the media can become real-life role models, or young men can be drawn in through meeting international, national or individual local soldiers or militias.
DDR and small arms management planners should focus on developing programmes that enable youth to contribute actively to disarmament and reconstruction efforts. In addition, strategies should be developed to disarm and reintegrate non-demobilized youth, who may be members of gangs or other armed groups not included in formal peace agreements. The eligibility criteria established for every DDR programme exclude certain groups of armed youth. Other suitable measures are needed to disarm these groups and assist them to find their place in society.